(July 19, 2010, Colombo - Lanka Polity) A mysterious primate driven to the brink of extinction by Britain's taste for tea has been photographed for the first time. The Horton Plains slender loris, found only in Sri Lanka, was for more than 60 years believed to be extinct.
Then one was spotted fleetingly in 2002 when a light shone in its eyes and was reflected. Researchers have now managed to get the world's first pictures of the animal.
More than 1,000 night surveys were carried out in 120 forested regions by Sri Lankan researchers working in partnership with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). The loris was found in half a dozen regions and researchers managed to capture three live specimens long enough to measure them.
The prime reason for the animal's rarity is the loss of its natural forest habitat, which has been largely destroyed by the drive to create tea plantations. The loss of land to other crops also contributed.
Estimates suggest there are just 100 left, putting it among the world's top five most threatened primates. But so little is known about the animal that numbers could be below 60 – which would make it the rarest species.
Dr Craig Turner of ZSL said: "There's been a lot of loss of habitat historically. Forest covered much of the south-west area of Sri Lanka, but it's been cleared for agriculture and tea estates.
"More recently they've been cleared for firewood collection. We are now left with a very few islands of forest that aren't connected.
"Because they [lorises] are so rare and because for many years they were thought to be extinct, virtually nothing is known about them."
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