Medicine, black magic and supernatural beings: cultural rituals as a significant threat to slender lorises in India.
Trade of wildlife for use in traditional medicines, rituals, magical spells and cultural practices occurs globally and has been studied mostly in Africa and Asia. The grey slender loris Loris lydekkerianus is used for both medicinal and ritual purposes, but little information is available on how the user is meant to extract their medicinal properties, or the potential impact these practices have on the species' populations. From 2014-2021, we used open-ended interviews with 293 informants in three slender loris range states in Southern India to collect qualitative information on people's beliefs regarding the use of slender lorises in traditional medicine, black magic rituals and other cultural practices. To understand this further, we analysed data on 139 live slender loris rescues from three rescue and rehabilitation centres and one government organization in Bengaluru, India collected over an 18-year period. We found that 116/139 live individuals had been involved in black magic rituals, including piercing, or burning the body and the eyes. These ritual practices occurred more often to female slender lorises and during the new moon. Data from 293 interviews revealed that astrologers regularly use live lorises for fortune-telling or for warding off evil. Slender loris body parts are used to make traditional folk medicine, develop black magic potions that bring people harm, hypnotize people or to thwart evil. Habitat loss and anthropogenic pressures, coupled with the existing slender loris trade for cultural practices, are a cause for grave concern. Numerous deep-rooted superstitious beliefs and rituals continue to thrive in modern India, and this is potentially one of the major threats to India's already imperilled slender loris population. More research into the prevalence of loris use for black magic is needed to assess the impact on species sustainability.