Capture: Bokor National Park, Cambodia
It’s dark and hot in here. And this sack is chafing against my skin, as my three companions and I are being spirited out of the jungle.
Last night, the two-legged creatures caught me. Mom had settled me onto a tree and instructed me to cling tightly to the branch and not make a sound. “Beware of pythons,” she once warned. “But more than anything else beware the pungent scent of the two-legged ones. The torture they put you through will make you wish you were swallowed whole by a snake.”
But they found me, shining a bright light that blinded me for a moment. Babbling to each other excitedly, they wrested me off the branch. Three other slow lorises were already tied to a bamboo pole, staring uncomprehendingly. I, too, soon had my legs bound against the pole, with the rope cutting into my flesh. We’re usually solitary creatures, but our forced intimacy had us chattering. “I heard they eat us,” whimpered one of my fellow captives.
Later, they wrenched out some of our teeth! One held me down while another forced my mouth open and tugged and twisted at some of my teeth with some kind of tool. The pain was unspeakable. Even though there was still blood oozing from our mouths, they stuffed us into a white plastic sack—and then we were on the move.
On the Road: Between Cambodia and Thailand
Flies are starting to buzz over the dead gibbon, its face finally in repose. For hours, she had been screeching in terror and panic as we all sat in our cages, bumping along the road. Her heart finally gave out, and it’s only an hour or two before the rot sets in. There are some dead birds in here as well. Their tiny hearts also stopped.
We’re in the back of a truck, though it’s covered so others won’t see us. I don’t know where we are, and I don’t know where we are going. The sun is beating down on the tarpaulin, and it’s stifling in our cages. I’m hot, hungry and thirsty—we haven’t been given any food or water since our capture. But the fear is overwhelming the thirst and hunger.
Besides the dead gibbon and birds, our other travel companion is a young Malayan sun bear cub. He’d been crying for his mother, who the men (that’s what they are called) shot and then butchered. She was still breathing when they chopped off her paws, he told us. Annoyed by his sobs, the men injected him with something that’s made him sleep. He’s been so still for the past hour—despite the rough road and the heat—that I fear he, too, might be dead.
To Market, To Market: Sunday Market near Chatuchak
Back into a white plastic sack. This time, though, I’m under the counter of a shop in a bustling market. If we so much as stir, the squat, mean-tempered woman looking after the shop delivers a sharp, swift kick. We are given water only once a day, and for food, they stuff hard pellets and leaves into our mouths. I can’t chew them properly because of the crude dental handiwork that I suffered earlier.
When we reached the town, the men handed me and the other slow lorises to a man who picked his gold teeth with one long fingernail. He crooned over us, saying we were in good enough condition to fetch at least 3,000 baht each, and he said something about a buyer looking to build his private menagerie of exotic pets. I don’t know what happened to the bear cub.
The noise is deafening in the market, and the ground is hard and uncomfortable. From the sounds, I gather the shop we’ve been consigned to mostly sells birds. I hear people lumber by and exclaim over the birds’ colorful plumage. Young brats demand birds as pets from their weary parents.
Occasionally, someone leans over the counter and quietly asks the woman if she has anything “special.” So far, she’s tried to hawk us, some African gray parrots and several Star tortoises. “We know where you can get pangolins, too,” she told one customer. Another time, she mentioned another trader in the market who had a zebra. “Dogs and cats aren’t enough as pets for some lunatics,” she said, chortling.
Working for a Living: Sammy’s Shack, Phuket
It’s dinnertime, and we’re the show. My companion and I have been sold to a restaurant owner who’s brought us down here by the sea. Night after night, I have to endure being manhandled by boozy tourists who like to pose for pictures with me. The men chuck me under their chins (most have more than one), and the women squeal over how “cuddly” I am. If only I had all my teeth.
The owner grumbles over us and our inability to perform any tricks. He would have preferred to have had an orangutan he could have kitted out in boxing gloves and shorts. But there’s been a crackdown lately on selling the great primates. Someone, somewhere, has finally realized that the wild is running out of orangutans, chimps, and gorillas. Maybe someday they’ll
realize that the forests are running out of slow lorises like me.