Slow Loris Outreach Week Success!

By Anna Nekaris

My journey to study Asia’s lorises began in 1993 at a conference at Duke University’s Primate Centre (now the Duke Lemur Centre). The conference, aptly entitled Creatures of the Dark – the Nocturnal Prosimian, was attended by some of prosimiology’s greatest names – Pierre Charle-Dominique, Simon Bearder, Patricia Wright, Robin Crompton, Yves Rumpler and many others. Still, only a few talks represented a major branch of the nocturnal primates – the lorises. Helga Schulze presented her beautiful drawings of captive slender lorises – a now famous ethogram. And Lon Alterman – large to the amusement of the crowd – presented the first behavioural study of slow loris venom – a trait we know now is a fascinating biological fact, and although very rare in mammals, is no cause for amusement!

I realised that a huge gap existed in our knowledge of the world’s primates, and my the first leg of my journey led me to PhD research in India. With renowned primatologist Mewa Singh as my mentor, we combed South India’s forests for slender lorises with only a tiny handful of sightings. In those days, when beautifully written letters ruled our communication sphere, I had only been back at my university at Washington University St Louis, for a matter of weeks when Prof Singh wrote to me excitedly in his boyish hand – we found slender lorises! You can see them everywhere, on fences, on roads, calling from the top of the tea shop…and my PhD was in order.

We discovered that slender lorises were highly insectivorous – in a whole year 97% of their diet was insects – 100s per night gobbled up like crunchy popcorn. They were super social, following each other nose to bum as they clambered noiselessly -yes they can do that – into their social sleep sites. And they were so fast with these tiny banana-sized primates sharing home ranges the size of three football fields.

The journey then took me to Sri Lanka where I wanted to see the ‘other slender lorises’ and found a whole new species – the tiny and adorable red slender lorises that clings to Sri Lanka’s tiny rainforest patches. This led to my first radio-tracking study of a loris species – with these even tinier primates moving even faster (they can race walk!) and having even huger home ranges!

All the while, I received small messages – since internet and email still were not popular – that the slow lorises all over the rest of Asia were in extreme threat. Could I Help? Could I come to this country or that? `I finally in 2006 headed to Java, then later to Singapore, in 2007 to Sumatra, in 2008 to Cambodia, in 2009 to Thailand, not to mention visits to China, Vietnam and NE India, to see the plight of the loris first-hand. I wondered how no one had taken up their plight? A few organisations had a loris on their list of the many species they might help – but they were being annihilated…..then IT happened.

In 2009, Sonya hit our screens -that loveable Russian-dwelling loris, seen by millions being tickled in a brightly lit room. The world suddenly loved the loris – but for all the wrong reasons – the problem that had struck Asia for so many years had become global – just about everyone seemed to want a loris as a pet.

Thus the Little Fireface Project was born – and all the news you can continue to read here, on our Facebook page, via our Twitter posts, our YouTube channel and our newsletter – not to mention our scientific publications, government documents and action plans.

I want to take this moment – the last day of SLOW week – to thank our wonderful supporters who have funded this vital work – you cannot imagine how much our hearts go out to you for deigning to support the lorises – so often known as brown unimportant nocturnal creatures. I want to thank all the wonderful volunteers who drew us logos, lorises, picture books, helped with web design, donated photographs, items for sale, had carboots, yoga classes and weddings for the lorises! And those who just donated their time! Every second is valued by us! I would like to thank those who bought a shop items and wore it around -perpetuating the message that lorises are not pets! And those who adopted a loris that allowed us to to do vital work like responding to emergencies for former pets who needed rescuing. And I want to thank all of you who support us on the social networks – every click – every share – honestly and truly – can help save these beautiful wonder little firefaces – should that fire go out the world will really be a darker place.

 

Kinder Surprise!

S.L.O.W. – Slow Loris Outreach Week means that as environmental education manager I get to share a LOT of loris love this week!  Every week we visit a different primary school and share our education program ‘Forest Protector’ with Grade 4 & 5 children.  Forest Protector teaches children about the lorises in a fun and interactive way.

This week was a little different, as we decided to visit a local kindergarten and see how the littlest of firefaces enjoyed learning about slow loris.  Remember, these children were between three and five years old.  Our local teaching assistant, Sri, read the ‘Forest Protector’ loris story to 32 mesmerised children and they acted out parts of the story by showing how slow lorises catch insects, lick flowers and do the venom pose.  Their little faces lit up at the turn of every page and they asked lots of questions.  “Does a loris sleep in a bed?” Not quite, they sleep on branches curled in a ball.

After the interactive story time, children enjoyed colouring in a slow loris colouring page from our Forest Protector book.  I have never seen so many beautiful lorises in all my life, they were pink blue, yellow and multi-coloured.  I have never seen such determined and happy faces in my life!  To be honest, it made me shed a teeny tiny tear.  It was like this was the best thing that had happened at kinder in a long time!

The highlight of the day for the little ones was when our slow loris mascot ‘Tereh’ visited the classroom.  There were screams of pure delight and lots of running around  the classroom yelling “Tereh! Tereh! Tereh!”     The one thing that I LOVE about this village in West Java is that children are allowed to be children, if fact, it is encouraged!   It is OK to yell and have fun and it is OK to be silly!   The children had a fabulous time and actually learned a lot!

The mums who were assisting at kinder were enjoying themselves as much as the children and they enjoyed learning about the slow loris too!

I don’t want to ever imagine myself leaving the Little Fireface Project.  Every single day brings me a sense of happiness I cannot explain.    This place is magical.  The village, the lorises, the people, everything.

 

Sharon Williams – LFP Field Station Coordinator/Environmental Education Manager

Victims of the photo prop trade: Helping slow lorises be slow lorises!

 

By Stephanie Poindexter

I have been I have been mesmerized by the physical agility of primates for as long as I can remember. As a primate lover himself my dad and I would make regular trips to the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, to watch all of the crazy way primates could twist and turn their bodies. Since those days at the zoo I have spent hours watching chimpanzees, spider monkeys, capuchins, marmosets, and tamarins, but over the last year I was lucky enough to fall in love with a new group of primates called lorises.

Much like the monkeys and apes I watched with my dad, lorises can contort their bodies in unique ways, which helps them move through the forest and reach for things they need. Unfortunately in some captive environments their wide range of postures can become limited and as a personal fan of how primates use their bodies, I enjoy looking for ways to restore and maintain this range.

During my MSc in Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes University, I decided to further look at the effects of gum-based enrichment on promoting natural postures in rescued slow lorises.  After multiple meeting with Anna Nekaris and 8 months of planning, I finally made the long 30-hour journey from Chicago to Bangkok.  Nancy Gibson, the founder of Love Wildlife Foundation in Thailand graciously allowed me to study the three species of slow lorises she helps to manage at a rescue center in Bang Phra, Thailand.

Before I knew it 3 months of nightly observations had passed by and I had results! I found that introducing various gum-based enrichments in addition to having a well-designed enclosure could be used to promote natural postures and behaviors.  While I was very excited to see some of those “lost” postures resurface, I wondered how this contributed to alleviating the greater issues plaguing slow lorises?

In Thailand slow lorises are popular pets and are frequently paraded as photo props in popular tourist areas. Knowing little about the special needs of these cryptic primates, private owners are rarely able to provide proper care. By the time these ex-pets and photo props get to rescue centers they can be in pretty bad shape. Creating environments and scenarios similar to the ones they have evolved to survive helps to maintain their “lorisy” specializations.

While I spent most nights watching the lorises, I found time during the day to observe their preference between enclosure sleeping site options. During 2 of 3 months I checked to see where each loris decided to sleep during the day. Having many nest box options and branch options, almost all of the slow lorises picked branches.  

The number of slow lorises arriving in rescue and government confiscation centers continues to grow.  Studying the ways that various aspects of captivity affects the individual and group wellbeing needs more attention and I hope that my research can contribute to helping captive lorises live long healthy lives.

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Group of rescued slow lorises sleeping together in branches.

 

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Bengal slow lorises pausing during suspensory walking.

 

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Bengal slow loris upon arrival at a rescue center in Thailand.

 

 

 

Slow loris venom can kill humans

Field biologist and conservationist George Madani describes his near-death experience with a slow loris. This account is soon to be published as a medical case study written by Madani and Nekaris in the Journal of Venomous Animals Including Tropical Diseases. Without medical intervention, George almost certainly would have died…

As a field biologist working in Australia I’ve had my fair share of perilous creatures to contend with. Deadly snakes with venom potent enough to kill a man several times over. Bone crunching, limb tearing crocodiles lurking in billabongs and rivers of the north . Even our toilets aren’t safe with the infamous Redback spider lurking in their favourite haunt of the noble outback dunny.

So when I visited Borneo a couple of years ago I thought the greatest danger I might face would have perhaps been with one of their legendary vipers or cobras. Maybe I would end up as lunch from an elusive neck seizing clouded leopard or perhaps being trampled by a herd of startled stampeding jungle elephants. Little did I think that I would be undone by a small, cute and furry little mammal.

Having been afflicted with a desire to catch and admire most critters from a young age I met my match in Borneo by what I thought to be the most unlikely of candidates. It was with considerable excitement that I came across my first wild slow loris, which inadvertently led to too close an encounter and ultimately the teeth of this nocturnal primate sunk deeply into my finger.

Loris Bite by George Madani

George after a young Nycticebus kayan deeply bit into his finger

Following a painful and frightening adventure into anaphylaxis I had a crash course into understanding that these cute little forest gremlins pack quite the punch being one of the worlds very few venomous mammals. The photos speak for themselves and if I can’t serve as a good example then I can certainly serve as warning! Leave the loris alone!

 

Read more about slow loris venom here

Crossing International Borders: The Trade of Slow Lorises (Nycticebus spp.) in Japan

By Louisa Musing

MSc Primate Conservation student 2013-2014

It was their eyes, those large, captivating eyes that first caught my attention.

© Andrew Walmsley

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The slow loris is a beautiful yet vulnerable primate. Its’ elegant, snake-like movement through the trees, mysterious nature, and unique morphology fascinated me even in the pictures, however it was their continued and often illegal exploitation that drove me to conduct research into one of their most pertinent threats.

In collaboration with Little Fireface Project (LFP) and Japan Wildlife Conservation Society (JWCS) I investigated into the previously under-studied Japanese slow loris pet trade; the magnitude of their exploitation, the legitimacy of their sale, and their care and treatment when kept as pets. I conducted: in-store and online pet shop investigations, informal interviews with pet shop owners, analysis of trade and confiscation records, and examined the conditions slow lorises are subjected to in private households through Japanese online videos. Whilst planning the details of my research in Tokyo, people kept asking me how I would react to seeing slow lorises being sold as pets, a trade which is widely recognised as violating species welfare. The answer was always the same; I knew it would be hard, but I was an animal lover through and through. I needed to help, do something useful, and be a part of protecting these creatures and their future.

Japan is renowned for its fascination with exotic wildlife and is one of the largest wildlife consumers in the world. The country has been internationally criticised for its poorly regulated wildlife law enforcement, weak penalties imposed upon law breakers, and involvement in illegal trade activities. Despite slow lorises’ internationally protected status, venomous bite, and complex captive care requirements my research confirmed their high demand as pets in Japan with 74 slow lorises observed on sale in just a two week period, and uncovered clear evidence of illegal trade through falsified permits and smuggling. I verified that the current penalties for illegal activities are weak, law enforcement is poorly regulated, and border control staff’s knowledge on species is limited. My research further authenticated the unsuitability of slow lorises as pets. Online videos revealed slow lorises frequently in human contact, overweight, and wounded. They were observed consuming foods that disregarded their natural feeding patterns, were housed in bright lighting and unnatural conditions, and were continuously seen exhibiting stress behaviours. My findings also reiterate how the general public are misinformed regarding species welfare, and are unable to comprehend the necessary requirements slow lorises need for a good standard of living. I can only emphasise the need for more stringent legislation at Japanese borders, regular monitoring of the pet trade, increased education for border control staff, particularly regarding species identification, and raising public awareness on their ecological importance in the wild and their unsuitability in private households.

Whilst these research aspects were integral to my project, I also took time to present a lecture on slow loris behaviour, ecology, conservation and protection, in Tokyo, in collaboration with JWCS, to students, professionals, conservationists, and zoo staff. We received very positive feedback and were encouraged to keep educating the Japanese public about the slow loris in an attempt to reduce demand. Finally, with the help of Professor Anna Nekaris, a new slow loris species identification guide was developed with details on all 8 species in English and Japanese to aid conservation staff, and those involved in species identification.

Needless to say, my research and experience in Japan was eye-opening and has only re-ignited my passion and drive for slow loris conservation against the injustices some members of the human race bestow upon them.

When I arrived home, I was inundated with questions about my research; was it successful, did I cope, what were the pet shops like? My answer to the latter was always the same; it wasn’t the stifling heat in those pet shops in the depths of Tokyo, the stacks of cages, or the sheer volumes of people all crowded around the piles of animals chained to their cages, it was their eyes. Their eyes said a million words, their eyes broke my heart.

A Javan slow loris for sale in a Tokyo pet shop, 2014. © Louisa Musing

 

This week is the annual Slow Loris Outreach Week and we need to remind ourselves that protecting these beautiful species starts with us, right here, right now. Every one of us must play an active role in their conservation. Send a clear message against their exploitation, inundate your social networks with conservation messages, and teach your friends and family about their story. Only through our combined efforts, be it one single person or large organisations, will the future of the slow loris be protected.

 

 

 

Now for those who like something a little slender with their loris…

 

By Emma Williams

I was lucky enough to go to Sri Lanka to study the Endangered Northern Ceylon grey slender loris Loris lydekkerianus nordicus. Small, elusive, nocturnal animals are difficult to survey with any accuracy; lorises are usually detected by their eye-shine using a red-filter torch and can be easily missed if they are not looking in the right direction. I carried out a trial of an occupancy survey protocol that minimised survey effort whilst maximising the likelihood of detection.

Using point-counts increases the chances of detection because you can thoroughly scan each survey site and repeat the survey on different nights to build up a ‘detection history’. Lorises have a distinctive whistle and this can also be used in detection. I found that simple occupancy surveys can provide reliable data for monitoring these elusive species and have potential application to the long-term monitoring of Asian loris populations.

I also studied the effect of naturalising the diet of captive slender lorises in captivity; in the wild they are almost exclusively insectivorous, yet they are fed a primarily frugivorous diet. Slender lorises show many morphological, physiological and behavioural adaptations to insectivory and are ill-equipped to deal with a frugivorous diet. It is vital to their health and well-being to eat foods which confer nutritional and other benefits.

I found that providing live insect prey produced significant improvements in their activity budgets; inactivity was reduced and foraging levels increased to match those of wild slender lorises.

When the lorises were fed a naturalised diet they also showed a wider behavioural repertoire; this is important because matching the foraging task to that of wild lorises helps to maintain their key survival skills and ‘behavioural competence’.

Slender lorises are amazingly acrobatic and use their strong grip and flexible bodies to perform extraordinary postures; such as monopedal, bipedal, tripedal and quadrupedal hang!

This little loris is just a few weeks old and has already perfected the bipedal hang.

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Sadly these amazing primates are threatened with extinction, mainly due to loss of their habitat; concerted conservation efforts are needed to help them to survive.

 

 

First Nights in Loris Land

Katherine KlingSwinging out on a loose branch, feet dangling in the air and scrambling to catch something to rest on over a messy expanse of bamboo and brush is not exactly what I ever imagined I’d be doing at four in the morning. But I’ve quickly learned out here that the term “slow loris” is a complete misnomer when you begin to follow these busy animals and that falling isn’t so much a question of whether or not it will happen but when. With all of the layers I’ve been putting on to combat the cold nights, I sometimes feel like a toddler in a snowsuit, tumbling clumsily onto pile after pile of leaves instead of banks of snow.

Of course, I haven’t constantly been chasing after the loris. Nights bring wonderful moments of calm as the loris comb through the trees. It’s amazing to see their concentrated gaze, the glowing red of their eyes in the beam of a head torch, as they move step by calculated step across a branch. In an instant, though, you can literally blink, and they’re gone. They can move up and across trees like any of us stroll down the sidewalk and can cross into a different part of the forest in an amount of time that doesn’t seem, maybe isn’t even, humanly possible. Hence the scrambling over hills and the swinging out over piles of bamboo in an attempt to keep up.

PAK B_7283Let me preface the rest of this by saying that it is impossible to write about what nights out with the loris look and feel like without including an embarrassing amount of mush. The night is just beautiful. I’ve seen fog roll in so thick we just had to hunker down and wait, our red lights feebly cutting through the fog like a band of Rudolfs on Christmas Eve. Calls from the mosque mix with the business of a limitless array of bugs, birds and frogs. Light plays on the tops of leaves like fireflies. Coming from the city, I remember wishing on the handful of stars as a child I’d be lucky to make out in the haze. Out here there are thousands to choose from, all accompanied by the clearest moonlight I’ve ever seen. The scale of it all makes you feel so small, in the best possible way.

I think we all have a small bank of places we visit and revisit in our heads, never allowing ourselves to leave them behind. Two weeks in the field, and I’ve already got a new one: the trails and tea farms that we frequent up in Loris Land. I will never get used to the twin twinkling scenes we are treated to here on a nightly basis, the stars overhead and the city of Garut blinking below. I will never, I hope, pass by an owl or loris up in a tree and think, “Oh, what else is new?”

NINA_0580It has been absolutely incredible experiencing these animals’ lives and their homes firsthand. Unfortunately it is also all too worrisome that day by day places like this, maybe even this place, are disappearing piece by piece. What can we do to make sure that habitats like Loris Land don’t just become a place we revisit in our head someday? In my brief time working with the Little Fireface Project, I think there is an answer here. I’m so lucky to experience research and conservation work firsthand here, to see what outreach and education projects can do. To put it all too simply, in my few weeks in West Java, I think they can do an awful lot.

Katherine Kling – Student Volunteer

Love Can Move Mountains … Or Make You Climb Them

The collars that we use to track our lorises with are very light and we have never known the collar to be a cause of concern or annoyance for our lorises which we observe nightly. Leaving a collar on a loris that we don’t observe often enough however, isn’t fair. We have a female named Api, who recently dispersed from 1500m above sea level to 1800m above sea level, near the summit of our volcano, Mt. Papandayan. It is quite a trek to get there so observations were very rarely done. LFP trackers Aconk, Dendi and Adin and myself decided to pay her one last visit, and cut off her collar.

Aconk, Dendi and Adin, our amazing trackers

Aconk, Dendi and Adin, our amazing trackers

That was the hardest hike of my life. I have hiked in the cloud forests of Honduras, but this was different, I had to claw, climb, dig and pull myself to the top. The higher we got, the steeper and the more vicious the wildlife became. Stems, branches and leafs were often armed with spikes and prickly hairs. When I fell or slipped (which was often) naturally I would reach for anything to keep me from rolling down the slope. Grabbing those spike vines or branches helped because it made me instantly jump (and swear) so high, I practically flew to the top. No I mean it, I’m not proud to say I accidentally taught our trackers some absolutely foul language.

Api - our fiery lady

Api – our fiery lady

Three hours later we reached the top, I was so happy. Aconk quickly said “The signal is pointing down”. I laughed. He wasn’t kidding. Because of the many mountains in the area, the radio signals bounce off of the mountains. We had to climb down and up for another 2 hours before finding our fiery lady.

2wm

I was very happy to see, she was not alone! She found a mate in this secondary forest! We heard eagles calling overhead and circling. Clearly this area was harder to live in than in our field site but our lady could handle it. Our trackers climbed the tree, placed her in a pouch, we cut off her collar (I took a commemorative loris selfie) and then released her back to her husband. She was in very good condition but had little scratches on her hands which were healing. Seems I am not the only one to hate those thorny branches.

Cutting the radio collar off

Cutting the radio collar off

The hike down was treacherous. We had wandered so far, it was steep and muddy. I have made it pretty clear that I slipped often, but now I was to worry about sliding down, getting my feed tangles in vines or low branches WHILE already sliding down which ultimately results in my flipping over and sliding onto my stomach. My boots were getting so caked with mud from all the sliding that everything became slippery. Even dry wood and rocks. Basically put, I was doomed. I actually managed to flip over and kick Aconk in the back and cause a domino effect when trying to jump down from a ledge but got one foot tangled. Now if Aconk was an evil villain that would have looked awesome. Two and a half hours later, some scratches and a few pricks, I was home and Api was back asleep. I just hope her boyfriend didn’t find her interesting only because of her sexy collar.

Francis

Releasing Api into the forest for good!

Releasing Api into the forest for good!

And the Oscar goes to …

It was the first time I was going to an animal market in Indonesia. I knew all about it, I knew it would be awful. I had no idea.

At LFP we love to give you good news and cute pictures but because of the nature of our work, we often also have not so good news to give. In order to learn what we are up against, we need to educate ourselves on what is actually happening  and we must try and see it from both sides. This was me trying to educate myself and hopelessly trying to grasp at anything rational but ultimately failed.

Filled with civets. Some were dead.

Filled with civets. Some were dead.

Our driver drove us to the edge of Jakarta’s biggest animal market.  As soon as we got out we were slammed with the tropical heat and humidity. What is strange is that the people selling these animals are actually very nice! They would chat, ask questions and make jokes and laugh nonchalantly and not even register all of the suffering animals all around them. It seemed to me like they don’t think animals can suffer. Maybe they are robots? Maybe they just believe animals are so far removed from humans that they do not feel pain, so what they are doing cannot be cruel. To them, they are just earning a living. If they don’t even have a concept of animal cruelty, then maybe the conservation and welfare education NGOs like us offer is misguided?

About 50 baby macaques. No food or water.

About 50 baby macaques. No food or water.

The hardest part was not even seeing the nine stacked cages filled with baby macaques (about 53 of them), tons of civets, fruit bats, hundreds of birds or soft shelled turtles. It was playing the part. Talking to these men and acting like a dumb tourist. Looking at that dying tree shrew and saying “Oh my gosh how cute is that??” Even having a look of disgust was not allowed. If I wanted to see the good stuff, they had to trust me.

Then I saw it: two cages, each with two lorises (one either dead or almost there). The very animals I am working to protect, right in front of me. And I couldn’t do a thing. Except smile.

Needless to say this has definitely re-ignited my fervor for loris (and all) animal conservation. We need to work together, share our knowledge and produce evidence based protocols to mitigate this mess. I never want to feel helpless like that again.

Plenty of more embarrassing things happened to me this week but that wouldn’t really fit in the tone of this post now would it?

Francis

2014 Race Against Extinction

race medal

On 11 April 2014, the 2014 Race Against Extinction…Footprints for the Future was held at Hitchcock Nature CenterAmerican Association of Zoo keepers, Omaha Chapter, host this annual event to raise funds for conservation.  This year they had over 100 runners and walkers come out and support the Little Fireface Project.  Not only did they raise funds to support a project, they also raised awareness for an elusive species that many people in the middle of the United States have never heard of.  The sun was shining, shoes were laced, and the event was a tremendous success.