Traditional medicine, ‘black magic’ threat to southern India’s slender loris populace

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The use of its body parts in traditional medicine and “black magic” have become a threat to the existence of slender loris, wildlife researchers have noted. The researchers made the conclusion based on the analysis of the injuries found on the creatures in Bengaluru rescue centers over 18 years.

Among the 139 rescued slender lorises—nocturnal primates found in southern India—researchers found 116 animals had injuries that resulted from pricking, piercing, burning or cutting as part of several “rituals”.

The team of researchers recorded 179 cases within Karnataka, including 139 animals in Bengaluru. Injuries found on 58 of them were related to black magic, and another 58 were cases classified as trafficking that were most likely connected to black magic as well.

The number of such cases rose steadily between 2002 and 2020, with peaks being observed in May, June and September. They also found out that the frequency of such rituals increased on new moon days.

In 30 of the 58 reported cases directly linked to black magic, the researchers detected fresh wounds linked to rituals that veterinarians estimated to be as recent as two days old. In some cases, multiple fresh wounds were seen in the same primate.

According to the research team, there are five major mechanisms to inflict wounds to the nocturnal primate—burning, hitting, piercing, breaking (bone) and cutting. The most common wound was piercing the forelimb.

The study, for the first time, provided a systematic account of how in southern India, the majority of the rescued slender lorises were used as animal effigies or living voodoo dolls. Such rituals often led to the animal’s death.

“Currently considered near threatened, we propose the growing use of slender lorises in medicinal and ritual trade a real threat. Over-extraction of slender lorises might have already caused local extinctions,” the team reported in the journal, People and Nature (DH Style guide to be used while uploading).

The team consisting of researchers—from the University of Mysore, Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, Bengaluru, and their colleagues from Oxford, Indonesia and Coimbatore—also interviewed 293 informants in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to understand people’s beliefs regarding the use of slender Lorises in traditional medicine, black magic rituals and other cultural practices.

The informants told the researchers that the primates suffer torture, including burning over a fire or piercing with a red-hot rod to extract teardrop to make kajal (kohl) to enhance eyesight. Also, their body parts are pierced (or burnt or broken) as a part of black magic rituals to bring about danger to a targeted person or to heal an ailment of an individual.

“Our data show that lorises are regularly trafficked for use in various ritual and traditional medicinal practices. Although some animals were kept alive in captivity, most were killed or given life-threatening wounds,” the researchers noted.

As primates with large forward-facing eyes, long limbs and no tails, lorises are often attributed to human properties, which may help understand their extensive association with medicines and rituals

In Sri Lanka, Sinhalese and Tamils ​​also use slender lorises in a variety of traditional medicines, including wearing the bones or plucked hairs as talismans against ‘evil eye’. In India as well as Sri Lanka, slender lorises are widely considered to heal leprosy, eye disease and many other ailments.