Cu Li Tuesday: Why study lorises and why with LFP?

The first time I learned about lorises and Dr. Anna Nekaris, was during my 2nd year at Washington University in St. Louis. I was a newly declared Anthropology major, taking my first pure primate-related course called “Primate Biology”.  My professor Professor Tab Rasmssen systematically went through each primate genus, presenting power point slides containing only photos. It was an impressive sight seeing how vast his primate knowledge was as he seamlessly moved from one species to the next.  I still remember that it is was week four when we reached Nycticebus and Loris. Right after the introductory slide showing theses little fire faces, he showed the class a picture of Dr. Anna Nekaris, wearing a red head torch while sitting in a dark forest.

Professor Rasmussen had such amazing things to say about this dedicated primatologist and conservationist who braved the long nights looking for these elusive primates. From that point on I was rather intrigued by the quirkiness I saw in lorises. I finished my last two years at university taking few non-primate based classes, allowing me to learn about the current primate species from Central America to Japan.  Given my French minor and my interest in primate cognition, I slowly got away from these curious little nocturnal primates, instead focusing on apes and other West African primates.

It was not until Dr. Nekaris emailed me upon my acceptance to the MSc in Primate Conservation programme at Oxford Brookes University that I rekindled my genuine fascination with nocturnal primates. As soon as I realized I would be moving to Oxford, I combed through my old power points and you would be impressed to know that I still had the notes from my Primate Biology course! Three years later I was able to find that one slide where Professor Rasmussen first introduced me to the person I would later call my supervisor and friend.

So, why lorises and why study them with LFP?

The best way for me to answer this is to ask another question.

Have you ever seen something that completely strikes you in an unexplainable way?

Well, that is how I feel whenever I meet eyes with a loris. Some would say that this is easily explained, because of how cute they are, but it is not just their infantile face that draws me in; it is all of the questions that surround their enigmatic existences. Why such a cute face for a nocturnal animal? Why such a long life history for such a small animal? Why have they evolved such an agility but are unable to jump? And how did they evolve to produce venom???

Dr. Nekaris and the Little Fireface project share my feeling of complete awe. For most of my life LFP has been committed to understanding lorises, conserving their populations and sharing what they have learned with the world. I am truly honored to call myself a member of such an amazing team. Every day we continue to fight the good fight for not only lorises, but also other little known nocturnal animals in collaboration with numerous conservation efforts throughout South and Southeast Asia.

Even if I tried, I cannot think of a better project to call home or a better supervisor to guide me through the ups and downs on my quest to becoming Dr. Stephanie Poindexter. Honestly, there is little to complain about when the work you love brings you to beautiful places like Vietnam and allows you to make a difference for these wonderful animals.

Thanks for reading and I hope to see you back here for the next Culi ‘Tuesday’ update.

Please like the Little FireFace Project page on Facebook, if you have not done so already.

With lots of loris love,

Stephanie

I’ve Arrived!

Hello everyone!  I arrived in Indonesia on the evening of Tuesday 28th April, by the time I’d reached base camp at LFP on the Wednesday afternoon I’d taken over a 100 photos!  This is my first time in Indonesia; it has so much going on; beautiful green countryside, extraordinarily friendly people and crazy roads!

Rice-field_Melissa-AndertonSo far I’ve said goodbye to Lewis – a volunteer here at LFP as well as a friend from home, in fact, if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be here, and Jess – the longest serving volunteer here and someone so full of knowledge I’m feeling a little lost without her!  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Sharon (project co-ordinator), Michael (Media officer) and the four trackers – Dendi, Aconk, Adin and Yiyi.  They have all been so wonderfully positive and I’ve really enjoyed spending time with them, they’ve made me feel so welcome!

Lewis-Leaves-LFP_Melissa-AndertonThe way of life is shockingly different from the U. K. and I think this makes it a little easier to become a part of it – I cannot compare it at all!  I went on my first shift with Dendi on Thursday evening to find and record the position of each of the collared lorises – it was so cool to finally see them!  I think at the moment Rasi is my favourite – I managed to get a really good shot of him chilling out on a banana leaf!  He looked absolutely beautiful.  It really was an experience I’ll never forget.

Nature-Club-01.05On Friday I joined Sharon and Jess at Nature Club – this is a class that is organised and run at the local school by Sharon from LFP and Dendi (one of the four trackers and also the builder and owner of the school) to help educate the local children about the wildlife in the area and the world of nature in general!  The children were all there voluntarily and it was great to see their enthusiasm towards learning about nature.  During the walk to and from the school I was surprised to see so many people smiling, waving and saying hello to us.  The people here are so friendly!

Rasi_Melissa-AndertonFriday night was my first observation shift.  Jess, Aconk and I set out at 11 pm in the hopes of finding Pak-B before moving on to observe Toyib…unfortunately it had been raining for 6 hours non stop – and pretty heavy, by the time we left it had stopped, but then at about 12.30 after hiking around rice fields and forest areas, it started raining again…we took shelter in a farmers shack to wait it out expecting it to cease, 5 am came and went and we were still stuck in the hut!  Eventually we had to brave the ran, after 4 and a half hours…I was so gutted that we didn’t get to see any Lorises.

My first weekend here I had the opportunity to visit a hot springs (pretty much a warm swimming pool outside) – it has some amazing views of the mountains surrounding the town.  This week has been pretty hectic with Jess leaving us; Sharon and I took a trip to survey an animal market in an Indonesian town, while at the same time seeing Jess off.  It was so hard for me to see wild animals with so much beauty, in cages; birds, reptiles, mammals the lot were caged or leashed…babies separated from their mothers, some so frightened they were rocking back and forth, others scrambling over each other in cramped cages.

I had a late shift last night to watch Toyib…man did he move!!  Adin and I were constantly moving through fields and trees (I slipped countless times – which Adin seemed to find hilarious!) to get a view of him.  It was a great chance for me to get acquainted with the fastest mover of the clan…I don’t blame him really, if I had the agility of a loris I’d be constantly on the move too!

That’s all for now, I’ll keep you all updated with the goings on here at LFP from a volunteers point of view next month!

Melissa – Student Volunteer

Cu li Tuesday: The Road to Cuc Phuong

Stephanie Poindexter

Hello Loris Lovers or should I say Xin chào, Những người yêu cu li* My name is Stephanie and I am Anna Nekaris’ most recent PhD student to leave Oxford and head off to the field. As a Chicago native, studying in the UK I am accustomed to living in faraway places and this time my research has brought me back to the lovely country of Vietnam. My first experience of Vietnam was at the 2014 IPS conference in Hanoi and after meeting so many like-minded researchers, conservationists, and primatologists, I was over the moon when I was invited by the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre (EPRC) to aid in the release of a group of pygmy slow lorises.  After months of planning, I finally made the trip to Vietnma’s first National Park and the home of the EPRC, Cuc Phuong. The journey from London to the national park was a perfect example of Murphy’s Law. Upon arriving at the Qatar check-in counter at Heathrow, everything appeared to be smooth sailing until they weighted my carry-on bag, which I cannot deny was filled with books and a bit heavy. Luckily the attendant got passed the shock of the weight then winked and whispered, “it’s fine, they will not check the weight at the gate” Step one: complete J  Even the flight to Doha was seamless and filled with tasty beverages and Downton Abbey. This travel bliss was shattered when I realized that my flight landed 20min late, so I scurried to my next gate, but unfortunately, even such a small delay made me miss my connecting flight from Doha to Hanoi. Usually I don’t mind missed flights or delays, but Tilo Nadler director of the EPRC was waiting for me in Hanoi and the next flight was not for 24 hours. Step two: not complete L  It turned out Murphy was not done with me yet. Tilo was actually running on a tight schedule and needed to be in south Vietnam on the day my new flight arrived, so I would have to stay in Hanoi for a few extra days before heading to Cuc Phuong. Step three: not complete L  Having made a new plan, I was able to return to the easygoing traveller I love being. Qatar arranged for a very comfortable stay in Doha and I was very happy to have 24 hours to watch tv and order room service. Once I arrived in Hanoi, I went back to all of my favorite places from my last visit. I drank my weight in coconut coffee, adjusted to the 6 hours time change, and took a 4-hour Vietnamese pronunciation class.On Saturday morning Tilo picked me up from my hotel, we had some lunch then set out on the road to Cuc Phuong.

Walking towards the mountains to find the cu li as the sun goes down.

Walking towards the mountains to find the cu li as the sun goes down.

After all of the impromptu city layovers, we finally made it to Cuc Phuong five days behind schedule, now I am surrounded by lush greenery, limestone mountains and most importantly lorises. Step four: very complete JJ   I look forward to sharing my Vietnamese Culi experience with you and I am very excited to release these pygmy lorises. I hope you will stay tuned for the next installment of Cu li Tuesday.  *Cu li means loris in Vietnamese  Stephanie

 

Calling all entomologists!

LC-Blog-2-Picture-1Whenever you set foot outside, whether it’s day or night, you are bound to see an insect of some description. Look hard, you might just see something cool, look even harder and you will probably see something spectacular.

When I’m not on shift, you can find me in the forest finding out what’s new. It seems now that every time I do, I find something just as odd, or even more so than I did the last time. With the help of Michael, my partner in crime, we have collectively managed to compile a moderately sized archive of all the weird and wonderful creepy crawlies West Java has to offer. Now there are far too many to fit in just one blog, so here’s a few of my favourite findings:

LC-Blog-2-Picture-3LC-Blog-2-Picture-2Here we have the coconut nettle caterpillar (Setora nitens). Michael and I found these critters underneath the leaves of a coffee plantation, and they come in the most amazing colours. Being a marine biologist, the closest I got to identifying this was a nudibranch (sea slug). They are equally as colourful, and most likely equally as poisonous.

I’m not 100% sure about this one, but I’ve rooted around and had a stab at what I think it may be, a Leaf False Katydid. They’re pretty common; it’s almost difficult not to see one, even though they are conspicuously shaped like a leaf. This little feller (lower left), however, couldn’t have been any less camouflaged if he tried. I can only describe the colouration as the orange you would find in a carton of Sunny D. Still a pretty cool find.LC-Blog-2-Picture-5 LC-Blog-2-Picture-4

Some of the hardest insects for me to photograph here have been the butterflies. Just when you think they have landed for a rest long enough to snap, off they go again. Here I was lucky enough to capture this beautiful courtship on camera after begging my way in to someone’s garden for a close enough view. These are Great Mormon butterflies (Papilio polytes), above we have the female and below is the male. Shortly after taking this photo they flew off again, and when I say they, I mean the female flew off and carried the male underneath her.

LC-Blog-2-Picture-6

Next up we have an individual in a group of over two and a half thousand species. This is a spotted tiger beetle, I couldn’t get the species name, but can you honestly blame me? Tiger beetles are adapted to sprinting to catch their prey. You can’t see it in this photo, but their front consists of a powerful set of mandibles that I wouldn’t want to get my fingers trapped in. Supposedly these beetles, this one being roughly 3.5cm in size, can reach speeds of up to 9km/hr. To scale this up for you, imagine running over 500 times your own body length per second. Not hard to believe when their feet look like a pair of Nike Pros.

LC-Blog-2-Picture-7Last up, we have a species of weevil closest identified as a Cyrtotrachelus sp. I’m not sure about the common name as these vary depending on the website you use. Some identify them as palm weevils whilst others identify them as bamboo weevils. I just don’t know. We managed to whittle this one down by its size (~40mm) and pattern on its back. They can also sometimes be identified based on their diet.

LC-Blog-2-Picture-8From stick insects, to spiders, praying mantis and butterflies – I’ve probably only scratched the surface of all the insects West Java has to offer. I would encourage everyone and anyone to get up, get out and explore, wherever you may be. Doing so here has really opened my eyes to the diversity of life you can find just a few footsteps from your house. And who knows, you might just surprise yourself or even inspire another to take an interest in the insects, hey Michael?

Lewis Castle – Research Assistant

click here to see our most recent paper about arthropods living at our field site!

Death by Coffee

Kopi Luwak is a coffee that has been regarded worldwide as the best coffee (a lot) of money can buy.  The coffee cherry is passed through the gut of an animal called a civet.  Civets are found throughout Asia and some parts of Africa and have a very varied wild diet which includes fruit, insects, small mammals and a very small portion of coffee if it is available.CAGED-CIVET_2476

It is very rare that I do anything very ‘touristy’ when travelling; however, I made a ‘tourist-based’ stop on a recent trip to the Island of Bali purely for a personal experience to see what in fact it is that tourists are being told about this insidious industry.

Cat-Poo-ChinoMy husband Michael and I stopped at a KOPI LUWAK (Civet Coffee) ‘information centre’ between Denpasar and Ubud.   As soon as we got out of the car, Michael said “I can smell civets”, he has a nose for these things and when we are in the forest, he often smells an animal before he sees it.   We parked on the opposite side of the road to the centre and the smell was pungent… oddly pungent.  There must be a lot of civets we thought.

Entry to the centre was ‘free’ and a lovely girl took us on the basic tour.  She showed us how the KOPI LUWAK is made from beginning to end (apart from the fact that civets are often taken from the wild, she never mentioned that!)

So, we wandered around the centre which was set on an acre or so of tree-lined paths with our lovely guide and viewed the civets in small, concrete-lined cages.  The cages were clean but bare, with only one branch in each enclosure.  As we walked around, we viewed the interpretive tables that explained the coffee making process, where tourists are encouraged to feel and smell the coffee beans so as they can personally tell the difference between ‘regular’ coffee and ‘civet’ coffee.  Interp-table-(2)We were offered an espresso sized cup of Kopi Luwak for $5.00.   “It tastes so much better than ‘regular’ coffee, why don’t you compare?” our guide invited.  It was blindingly obvious to us that the battered, old, unsealed tin of ‘regular’ coffee offered to us for our comparison, contained a sample of old and stale coffee that must have been there for months.  I dare say, the freshly roasted ‘civet’ coffee may have in fact tasted better than its stale rival in this instance.

So, I am one of these people that like the truth; I am straightforward, so I asked the questions instead of sitting silent to see what industry mantra I would receive.

Here are the ‘so-called’ facts from this particular KOPI  LUWAK centre.

Untitled-1

The photos accompanying this article are of the civets living in ‘fairly good’ conditions, but of course, nowhere near the intended wild environment they should be experiencing.  Usually Kopi Luwak producing, captive civets are in cages where they can barely turn around, or even lay down.  The animals in these production centres are unnaturally obese and have severe health issues as a result.  Even in the ‘tourist approved’ cages at this particular information centre, the civets such as the individual pictured below were blind and overweight.

Good-caged

So, I’m going to do some basic calculations for this particular ‘Kopi Luwak Information Centre’.  I’ll be fair and conservative to start with:Rows-of-coffee

60 civets produce 2kg of coffee a day.

2kgs @ USD$60.00 = USD$120.00 per civet

USD$120.00 x 60 = USD$7200.00 PER DAY

If I am not conservative with my calculations;

60 civets produce 5kg of coffee a day.

5kgs @ USD$60.00 = USD$300.00 per civet

USD$300.00 x 60 = USD$18,000 PER DAY

Sadly, this is only one small civet farm on the island of Bali, which is a small player in the Kopi Luwak market.

The production of Luwak coffee is a CIVET-COFFEEmulti-million dollar industry that won’t be shut down in a hurry.  This is due to the popularity of the product; the result of clever marketing strategies that specifically target ill-informed individuals that never question how their purchased product is in fact produced and the cruelty endured by the enslaved wild animals that have been stolen from the wild.

THINK BEFORE YOU DRINK – Kopi Luwak is Cruelty in a cup

Sharon Williams

LFP Coordinator/Environmental Education Officer

Is it worth it?

Tropical forests are being destroyed at a rate of 1.5 acres every second due to human activities, thereby accelerating climate change through impacts on the carbon cycle, and causing the extinction of species dependent on these habitats. That’s a sentence that’s probably extremely familiar to anyone in my field of primate conservation. Nearly every scientific paper dealing with primates or tropical forests that’s been produced in the past 10 years starts with a statement that’s pretty similar. Almost unbelievably, the fight to have that sentence accepted is still on. Florida just outlawed the use of the term ‘climate change’. Companies that aim to produce ‘sustainable’ products cut down rainforest so they have the land to grow them. Though it often seems like we’ve turned a corner on the whole deforestation/climate change issue back in the UK, possibly due media saturation or compassion fatigue, we haven’t. Organic chickens, locally produced veg, fair-trade chocolate, these ease our burden of guilt, but the petrol in our cars, the plastic containers of our yogurt pots, the foam of our yoga mats, these are products of on-going destruction on a scale which is, for all intents and purposes, unfathomable.

DSC_0313When I tell people back home that I study primates, they often think I work in a lab, administrating some experimental drug on chimpanzees. When I tell them I work in conservation, they think I spend my time in flip-flops wandering through forests glassy eyed staring at tree frogs. There is approval in most people’s eyes with the lab scenario, and mocking amusement in their faces with the latter. I think there’s a problem there – we associate success, wealth, a ‘proper’ job with machinery, making something, building bridges, roads, cars, selling products, transporting goods, managing, infrastructure, steel, concrete, packaging, forklifts, hardhats and hi-vis vests. Lab coats fits in their somewhere too. To be successful, we show the world around us the trappings of success; a house, a car, a nice sofa, an amazon prime account, our kids going to a nice school… There’s nothing wrong with this. In England at least, we’re taught from a very early age that these are important things, there what make you a real member of a society, integrate you, that they make you a real person. But conservation doesn’t fit in there. It’s not important. It’s probably something that happens very far away… Well, generally it is.

Through a few centuries of civilization, half a dozen major invasions, and a few wars, the UK has been stripped of nearly every natural resource above ground. With this, wildlife has been almost completely removed. We once had bears. Fricking BEARS. Now we have to fight to save badgers. Not that badgers aren’t nice, it’s just a sorry state of affairs that we’ve sunk to these levels. But for all our growth, modernism and high-speed broadband, is the UK happier than anywhere else? Are we superior to the likes of Peru or Sumatra or Chad? If a nation’s success is measured in machinery and hard-hats and the time it takes to receive a pizza delivery, then yes, but if it’s to be measured in closeness to nature or ecological wealth … i.e the possibility of surviving the next few hundred years… then no, in old Blighty we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel.

With all this modernism, all these shopping centers, what are we aiming to achieve? Sometimes I feel like the only purpose of the entire race is to reach a comfortable level of sterility where all obstacles (in the form of wildlife and pesky forests) are removed to make way for more supermarkets and discount sports stores. To some extent, I understand this. Forests and wildlife are dirty and smelly. They’re nice to look at once in a while with a fence around them, but what purpose do they serve? Well, they serve a pretty big one. Carbon stocks in tropical forests trap the carbon dioxide we pour into the atmosphere and turn it into nice, breathable oxygen. If they’re chopped down and burnt to make way for crops or palm oil or cattle, then not only does the possibility of storing CO2 emissions decrease, but whilst being burnt, those forests release more CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing to the warming of the planet. But what about the wildlife within those forests? Well, they’re the gears which drive those forests and keep them working. Without seed dispersal and predators, the ecosystems which keep those forests functioning break down.

What point am I trying to get at? Well, as I write this I’m sitting in the office of The Little Fireface Project in West Java. I’m surrounded by people who’ve forgone the trappings of success to try and save some wildlife, and in turn save some forests. Lorises serve an important ecological function. By raising awareness in the local people through conservation education, maybe they might think twice before chopping down some forests for crops, or not take lorsies to sell as pets. By conducting non-invasive research on lorises, LFP raises awareness internationally about these amazing creatures, and maybe a palm oil company or a government with think twice before creating a plantation or constructing a road. My little project whilst I’m here is to reintroduce a loris that was caught for the pet-trade to his natural habitat. Not only will this give him a better life, living as a wild, free animal as he was meant to be, but we’ll also raise awareness about conservation and lorises with the local people. It is, admittedly, just a drop in the bucket when faced with that terrifying figure of 1.5 hectares of tropical forest destruction every second, but with projects like this one happening all over the world, and people like you reading blogs like this one, maybe the Little Fireface Project can make a difference.

Chris D Marsh

Top 10 tips worth learning!

I’ve been at Little Fireface Project for 14 months now and Nature Club has been by ‘baby’ for the past 10 months.

Coming from a tourism marketing background in Melbourne, Australia and no intense love for children, this was bound to be fun!   I don’t play with children; I go out for dinner and enjoy champagne.  I LOVE nature and wildlife, I hike and photograph with my husband, but never really hang out with kids.  I’ve decided though that children are like cats … the more you keep away, the more they insist on sitting right on you whilst you try to work (the cats, not the kids).  Now I look back though, I realise that children always sought me out at parties, weddings and family gatherings; and honestly I think it was because I was the most ridiculous ‘grown-up’ in the crowd and I genuinely enjoyed myself.   I absolutely believe this is a very useful skill, so try harnessing that energy sometimes if you can… genuinely.  It will be good for your soul too!

Tip# 1: Genuinely enjoy what you do … and the rest will follow.

So I figured, I’m creative, how hard could working with children be?  I just need to make learning fun and get involved like I do at parties.  Surely if they were having fun they would HAVE to learn and I, in turn, would enjoy it too right?   Yes! That’s exactly what happened surprisingly enough, Phew!

RidiculousTip# 2: Learning should be fun, not just for the children.

Restructuring Nature Club has been has been my favourite role at Little Fireface Project and I have enjoyed seeing the progress of the children during their monthly themed sessions and seeing the numbers continue to balloon.

Tip# 3: Ensure what you are doing is working.  I do pre-post questionnaires for each month to gauge if my lessons are working.

Children join Nature Club every Friday for two hours of hands on and fun learning with a different theme each month.   I cover all styles of learning but, without doubt the kinesthetic learning style is the favourite here in West Java!  These children have a genuine creative flare and when given tasks they produce the most immaculate pieces of art with very little prompting.

So the last time I blogged we had just completed mammals, amphibian, insect and endangered species themes.   We had a visit to the zoo and had heated debates about why animals are endangered.  That was great and it made me realise that some of these children have a great passion for wildlife, even though, in general they are brought up to see wild animals in an indifferent light.

Tip# 4: Don’t assume that every child thinks the same (or learns the same)

Since then, we have learned all about our solar system and the night skies and that clouds are NOT planets.   We played sensory games to show how nocturnal animals have adapted to live in darkness and we made ‘space playdough’ and made our own planetary system.  It was messy and I looked like I had been to a street festival for many weeks later, with glitter in places I don’t dare mention.

Tip# 5:  Keep things interesting and mix it up … go outside, make puzzles, posters and puppets.  This is done on minimal budget here and we recycle EVERYTHING.

Our current Nature Club theme is ‘oceans’ and strangely, the children seem to have an excellent knowledge of the oceans compared to what they knew about forests when we first began.  The ocean is about two and half hour drive from us and the forest is at the doorstep … literally, so this was a surprise for me.     One 10 year old girl, Hismi, was up in arms over the killing of all of the sharks and fish.  She said “killing sharks and fishing too much is really bad for the ocean’s health and we will all be sorry one day”.  I came out of that class with the biggest of grins on my face.

Tip# 6: NEVER assume the children know less than you!

Next month I am sure will be everyone’s favourite theme when we learn about primates.  There are some great primate activities planned and I cannot wait to be climbing, swinging, leaping and playing in the forest near where we live for the CHIMP-OLYMPICS (remember, I’m the ridiculous adult and will be the first to climb a tree like an orangutan).    I’m also in the process of making a ‘Primate Quest – Q & A game’ which will be available for all organisations to use in their education programs.

Tip# 7: Think outside of the square.  Try things.  Sometimes they work sometimes they don’t!

Did you know that Little Fireface Project, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and Columbus Zoo funded the building of the new Nature Clubs rooms which officially opened this year?  Since then, our classes have grown and grown.   What started as a class of 10 is now 45 eager and ready to learn children.  Forty-five LOUD and energy-filled children learning about nature and wildlife (did I mention loud?).  The children have even decided that they want to start a tree planting club and want to plant trees at least once a month.    Now that’s a win!

Tip# 8: Reward effort … small stickers or cards go a long way.  We have attendance awards every two months.

Once more, I am so proud of my personal achievements here and particularly with Nature Club.  I only have three months left on the ground here, and then we are off to Europe via Central and South America, hopefully to do more environmental education with organisations along the way.  Now there is something I NEVER thought I’d say.

Tip# 9: Take a leap of faith, whether it be in environmental education or life!

I do believe a solid foundation has been set for future environmental education endeavours here and I just know Little Fireface Project will continue with the wonderful work they have been doing.

Tip#10: Get out and do it!.. It just might change your life and someone else’s too.

 

Sharon Williams – Project Coordinator/Environmental Education Manager

LITTLE FIREFACES – BIG CHALLENGES

As I boarded my plane in Orlando, Florida, to begin the long 30+ hour day of travel to Indonesia, I realized I was stepping largely into the unknown. Sure I knew some basic facts, but that’s about all I had: I am going to a place called Cipiganti, there are Javan slow lorises there, and somehow I will help save them.

Getting from Jakarta to the field site exposed me to the insanity that is Indonesian traffic, but what really struck me was the very last leg of the journey. The rocky road that branches off from the main street to take you up to Cipiganti is treacherous to say the least. The last 25 minutes of my travels were filled with bumping, jostling, and bouncing up this rock pile and I began to think to myself, “What did I just get myself into?”

Well it turned out I had gotten myself involved with a great organization filled with even greater people. Within 24 hours of arriving at the field site I was on my way to see the lorises and assist with data collection. After using radio telemetry to find the loris’s general location, we used our headlamps to scan the trees looking for our focal animal. Scanning, scanning, scanning….woah! As my head torch illuminated two bright red eyes beaming back toward us, it became immediately apparent why lorises are called “firefaces.” It is one thing to see a picture of a loris, and quite another to observe one personally. They are so weird and strange in the absolute best way. I know that I won’t forget that first night out in the field as we watched Azka, our focal loris for the night, move gracefully through the treetops foraging for insects.

My time with LFP was limited to only three weeks unfortunately, as I needed to return to school to finish my final undergraduate semester (which is where I am now, writing this instead of doing schoolwork). However during that time I was able to take part in many different aspects of LFP’s work and learned an immense amount. Assisting with the education programs was a blast, and the kids were fantastic. I think I provided them with as much entertainment as they provided me, especially with my horrible attempts at speaking to them in Indonesian. One of the most exciting projects I had the opportunity to assist with was setting camera traps. To reach the camera trap site you have to make the arduous hike up into the primary forest. The primary forest is amazing, and a glimpse into the past. As I stopped to take in all the green, all the sounds, all the life, I couldn’t help but imagine how different this island must have been before the impacts brought about by humans changed it forever. After finally setting up all the cameras, it was time for an Indonesian-style picnic. We washed our hands in a cool pool at the base of a small waterfall before we sat down to enjoy our meal. The food was set out on banana leaves resulting in a delicious buffet of rice, tempeh, bala-bala, chombro, and I don’t even know what else; all I knew was that it tasted amazing.

Despite all the fun I had assisting in LFP’s research programs, it was clear that many challenges still face not just the slow loris, but all of Indonesia’s wildlife and remaining natural environment. Wildlife trafficking, deforestation, corruption, and cultural attitudes are just some of the many obstacles that must be overcome for conservation to truly work in Indonesia. While this list may seem daunting, organizations like LFP are working hard on the front lines to give Indonesia’s wildlife a fighting chance for survival. Conservation is like the road up to Cipiganti: always uphill, full of unexpected bumps, and sometimes it may seem like you won’t make it to the top. But with hard work and perseverance, you will reach your goal, whether that’s making it back to your house at the top of the hill after a long day or saving a Critically Endangered primate. Big challenges face the little firefaces of Java, but NGOs like the Little Fireface Project are giving them a fighting chance, and I’m proud to have contributed in a small way with the conservation of the Javan slow loris.

Taylor Tench – Student Volunteer

 

Civets, lorises and leopard cats, oh my!

Life in the LFP field station is what you make it. It’s possible to skate through your time here in West Java missing out on the wealth of opportunities outside the door. And with the focus of the project obviously being slow lorises – a nocturnal animal – shift times coincide with the most active period of forest life and if you want to see the other inhabitants of this Javan agro-forest really all you have to do is look. Uncollared_2014_Michael Williams (5)This abundance of wildlife is a major plus point for rainy season and the increased chance of seeing some of Java’s fauna definitely helps get me out the door and into the agro-forest when the weather is miserable and it’s raining! As if the chance to observe and study the wild behaviour of one of the “World’s Top 25 Most Endangered Primates” and the world’s only known venomous primate needs to be talked up, but if your study animal has been out of sight for 45 minutes or you’ve been stranded in a little farmers hut for hours due to the weather it really does help to have interesting surroundings.

If you set out on first shift, leaving the project house in daylight most of the larger forest inhabitants have yet to wake up although as you climb up the hill the journey often coincides with the start of the cicadas evening chorus and at dusk a multitude of buzzing insects fly in loops around your head – many of them having a nibble. The lorises we follow vary in distance from the field station from about a half-hour walk to nearly an hour to get up to the higher territories of Charlie, Toyib and Azka. Now I’ve been here for a couple of months I’m getting the hang of where to look for what along the different routes; I know where the civet family lives, what loris territories I’m most likely to see a leopard cat in, what to look for to notice the long tail of a dragon camouflaged in the Kaliandra trees alongside the paths and which farmers ponds, hidden amongst the undergrowth, provide a home to which frog species.

Once you’ve located your focal loris for the evening’s observation and you’ve settled in to take your GPS point and observation it’s rewarding to see the wildlife return as you quieten down. The ground comes alive as you watch it with innumerable grasshoppers and crickets, crazy looking shimmery beetles, stick insects on the lower branches and praying mantis and katydids among the leaves. During behavioural observations we take GPS points at 15 minutes intervals and record behaviour ad libitum throughout the night. One of the most important things to consider during a shift is the effect of the observers on the target loris, as we don’t want to influence their behaviour; for the welfare of the animal and in turn to ensure you’re collecting valid data! It’s always important to keep quiet and once the animal has moved off we wait at least 15 minutes before following so the loris doesn’t feel like its being chased. Being still and silent for prolonged periods of time mean that you get a good look at a variety of animals. This week alone I’ve had some awesome encounters; while huddled in a tea field watching adult male loris Azka gouging gum in jeingjen trees a Javan ferret badger trundled up foraging not 5 m from Pak Adin and I, his little white tipped tail bobbing along and later that same evening while sat in an unused and overgrown field a banded linsang walked calmly towards us, stopping about 2 m away to catch and chew a large insect before wandering off and watching us from a safer vantage point. It’s not only the lorises that are more active during a second shift. I’ve found I’m much more likely to see civets in particular while out on the later observation. I’ve had occasions of common palm civets crossing directly over my head while using the water pipes to cross fields into the next clump of trees or them walking straight past me while they travel noisily through bamboo trunks.

While its refreshing to see how adaptable so many of these species are to life in their anthropologically altered habit, it also make me think of how diverse the area must have been before humans came in and cleared the area for crops. After all we are here because of a need to research a primate species, which is listed as Critically Endangered with its major threats being habitat loss and human persecution. Habitat protection is such a simple idea to suggest but one of the hardest to enforce. As I observe the wildlife, moving from crop field to crop field during my shifts I just hope that it isn’t too late for these remaining species.

Jess Wise – Student Volunteer

Half a World Away

DENISE

Denise and her Indonesian family – Dendi, Adin, Aconk and Yiyi

Five months ago I made the big step to travel half way across the world (literally!) to follow a dream. I packed my bags and left the Little Fireface Project, Indonesia and the lorises and went to Mexico to study spider monkeys. Spider monkeys were the first primates I ever had the privilege to study in the wild and when a PhD position in conservation came up I could not let the opportunity pass by. Like slow lorises, all species of spider monkeys are threatened with extinction.

At first I was worried that the difference between the two places would be humungous. But in reality once you get over a monster jetlag, there turned out to be more similarities than differences and it quickly felt like home. Instead of rice with tofu, here we eat tortillas (little corn flour flatbreads) with beans. And instead of hearing the mosque’s call to prayer at 4am, here we hear dogs barking and latin pop music blasting from car speakers. In Mexico, the weather is hot, hot and hotter and the sun shows its face every day.

I am based in the Yucatan Peninsula of Southern Mexico, famous for its beaches (Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum) and burgeoning tourism industry. It is also home to a wonderful conservation organization that I am very happy to be working with called ConMonoMaya(www.facebook.com/ConMonoMaya).  Like the Little Fireface Project, ConMonoMaya works hard to raise awareness for conservation issues related to the two primates living in the Peninsula: Geoffroy’s spider monkey and the black howler monkey. It is interesting going from studying primates at night to studying those in the day. I used to have my field backpack filled with three sweaters that I would pull out one by one as the night got colder and a thermos full of sweet, hot coffee. Now my backpack is full of insect repellent and water. Despite the heat, we wear long sleeves in the forest in an attempt to ward off little insects called chiggers. They are leave bites that itch for weeks. Our only defence from these little buggers is a laundry soap called Princessa, but even that does not always work.

DENISE-2DENISE-3It is especially in conservation issues that I see how similar Java and the Yucatan really are. In Punta Laguna, a long-term spider monkey research site, the monkeys are very well habituated and easy to see. This still means a lot of neck ache as they live so high in the trees! But the monkeys are not shy. When I first arrived, I was very surprised to see the monkeys using trees to cross over the road and very close to electricity cables. My first thought was of Tahini, a loris that in my time in Java sadly passed away as she had dispersed into the village as was electrocuted by power cables. I felt an instant fear for the spider monkeys. They were crossing the road to get to a fruit tree on the other side. Thankfully, infants, mothers and adults all seemed to avoid the electric cables every time.

Like slow lorises, one of the biggest threats facing spider monkeys in Mexico is the primate pet trade. It is illegal to keep spider monkeys as pets. In Indonesia primates including lorises are traded openly on big illegal wildlife markets, but here infant monkeys are often seen in front of restaurants or along the road. Infants are caught from the wild and at the very least their mother is shot. These little monkeys serve as tourist attractions with no message accompanying the horrors they went through to get there. ConMonoMaya is actively trying to help these monkeys. They give environmental education to schools in the area and are actively working with wildlife services in Mexico. Another similarity is in the children’s faces. I was afraid that I would not see smiles again like those of the children in Cipaganti. The children have the most pure of laughs, so I was very happy when I discovered that those smiles can be found anywhere. The Mayan children of the village light up in exactly the same way when you talk and laugh with them. I feel very lucky to have been part of Little Fireface Project and now ConMonoMaya.

Denise Spaan