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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Quest for the Mountain Loris

When Rich Tenaza invited me to join him on a trip to Tajikistan I regretfully turned it down.

I'd been to Asia already once this year and I knew another trip would be a hard sell at home.

Rich is also a great leg-puller, and I suspected I was about to become the victim of his mirth.

But I was wrong.

Being an old Asia Hand, Rich is always ready for adventure East of Suez, and he was hell bent on following up on an intriguing sighting from Tajikistan.

In 2002 University of Pacific alumnus Tom Mohr was camping at the north end of Iskanderkul, a lake resort in Tajikistan, when he encountered a strange slow- moving animal with piercing eyes.

He contacted Prof. Tenaza, and so began the dialogue.

The only thing that fit his description was the slow loris, Nycticebus bengalensis.

So Rich sent Tom a video of a slow loris, and Tom confirmed that the animal in the video resembled the one he had seen.

This is strange, because the nearest population of slow lorises, in SE Bhutan and NE India, is over 1200 miles from Tajikistan's cold mountains.

But these are strange times.

New species are still being discovered, and species thought to be extinct are being re-discovered, alive and well, in remote outposts.

Rich knew that the possibility of something outrageous, like a range extension of the slow loris couldn't be dismissed.

He has made bizarre discoveries before. He was the first to observe the pangolin's rolling stone escape -- yes, the pangolins disappearance act consists of curling up in a ball and rolling downhill like a cannonball.

So Rich organized a camera trapping expedition, which included UOP engineering emeritus Dave Fletcher, Coby Ward from the Department of Mathematics. and Tom Mohr and his wife Rayhan.

Tom knows the region well; he is married to a lady from Kazakhstan and works for Project Hope in Central Asia.

Mohr interviewing a local.

The group spent 17 days in the Iskanderkul area interviewing residents, setting cameras and applying lures of slow loris urine nearby.

Their cameras photographed

little brown bears (Ursus arctos),

big brown bears,

Tolai hares (Lepus tolai),

rats (perhaps Rattus pyctoris)  ,

and ravens.

If the mountain loris is there, the lure didn't do its trick.

Neither did the wolf bait.

As Dave Fletcher tells it, "Rich bought a sheep and had it slaughtered to use
as bait for wolves and other carnivores.

"We managed to get shots of domestic cattle, until a large black and white dog showed up and ate all the meat.

"On the positive side, the family we stayed with enjoyed the mutton.

The existence of the mountain loris in Tajikistan remains unconfirmed

Moral of the story: Any wildlife report of a strange slow-moving animal with piercing eyes is a excellent reason to mount an expedition.  


Audrey said...

Wow, I didn't think people were still discovering new species of mammals, bugs yes, but not mammals. I can't even keep up with the identified ones. Never heard of a loris or pangolins before. Thanks for sharing Codge!

john said...

Are YOU pulling our leg?

Camera Trap Codger said...

It's a true story.

owlman said...

Rich is an amazing person who never rests. If it is there he will find it eventually.

cliff said...

Oh to be young again...sounded like a great expedition in rugged country.