The ongoing sale of the slow loris as an exotic pet in Japan — almost a decade after international trade of the small primate was banned — has led to a high risk of it being sold illegally, a recent survey has found.
In a report published in the Asian Primates Journal, an Oxford Brookes University research group found “inadequacies in Japan’s enforcement of national law,” calling for stronger penalties for offenders and tougher legislative regulations in the country.
Japan is known to be the world’s largest market for slow lorises, which mainly exist in Southeast Asia. The primate, measuring up to 40 cm in length, can sell for as much as ¥1 million here.
International trading of the animal has been banned since 2007 under the Washington Convention. In Japan, slow lorises that were either obtained before the ban or bred domestically can be sold or transferred if they have a registration certificate issued by the Japan Wildlife Research Center.
But the research group signaled that the registration system had loopholes.
During the investigation, conducted between May and July 2014, the group discovered 74 slow lorises among six threatened species for sale in two pet shops in Tokyo and 18 online stores.
The two pet stores were displaying a total of 18 slow lorises with registration certificates indicating that they had been legally imported prior to the trading ban.
However, three of them appeared to be younger than the age of 7, suggesting the documents were false, according to the report.
No import permit contained information on their origin.
The remaining 56 slow lorises were found for sale at online shops, of which 33 were said to be a captive bred, 12 were recorded as having been imported before the trading ban and 11 had either no visible permit or no mention of one on the website.
But the group doubted that all 33 slow lorises had been bred in captivity, given the extremely low reproductive success rates even at zoos.
The group’s finding “points strongly towards the infeasibility of them all having been captive bred,” the report said.
The group also said people involved in illegal trade are “not likely to be deterred from continuing their activities” when considering the rate and price at which slow lorises are sold in Japan, where penalties are weak.
Fines of less than $2,600 apply for falsified permits and less than $40,000 is set for wildlife smuggling along with an occasional short prison sentence.
However, buyers are now willing to pay up to $8,650 per slow loris, the group said, quoting sources.
An official of the Japan Wildlife Research Center said, “We cannot comment in detail” on the report.