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.

Our Village

 

IMG_6989I come from Melbourne, a vibrant and eclectic city in Southern Australia. Melbourne is known for its world standard shopping, glorious cafes and food … oh the food!

Now I am based at what seems like a world away in a little village on the side of Mt. Papandayan, an active volcano in West Java, Little Fireface Project’s home base.

Cipaganti StoreAlthough there are no fancy clothes stores, restaurants or chic cafes, I am pleased to say that this means  there is not a  fast food outlet, 7 Eleven, Tesco or Costco in sight.  I don’t miss any of these conveniences; in fact not having these large and somewhat ugly stores in the village is part of the local charm.

Our shops are all run by local people and you can find one in just about every ‘block’.  At a glance they look small, but they are like Dr. Who’s tardis; they always seem to have exactly what you need tucked away somewhere. Coffee, washing powder, sugar, garlic, environmentally friendly light globes … Tidak Apa-Apa (No Problem)!

Cipaganti Garden NurseryThese are just some of the local stores that we visit on a regular basis. Some are mobile and visit the children’s schools, others stay put. The colourful products hanging from the windows and walls contain everything from coffee, to crisps, to vitamins.

CipagantiCharming aren’t they?

 

Sharon

The Loris in Lore, Literature and Legacy: Conservation play for Asian lorises

MASC (Monkeys Acting in Schools for Conservation) and the Little Fire Face Project are collaborating to create a new piece of educational theatre. We are putting together a piece that will give audiences a chance to get to know lorises, through the eyes of different people over history. From the tribal beliefs about these mysterious night-time primates to the views of collectors for zoos and plantation owners. These vignettes will weave in and out of each other to introduce the audience to these beautiful primates. Using hand-carved Javan puppets for the first time we hope to explain the diverse eractions to lorises over time including fear, respect, tenderness and love. This piece is to compliment the campaign that Litle Fire Face Project is running to try to make people aware of lorises and the illegal pet trade in this endangered species.

Come see the debut of this piece at Oxford Brookes Outburst Festival at the Pegasus Theatre, Magdalen Road Oxford on Saturday May 10th from 3-4pm.

PUPPET CARVINGS BY AMANK

Table Top Sales in Bradford Raise Funds for Slow Loris!

Thanks SO much to Vicky Luker and her family and friends who raised enough funds for LFP to support the purchase of vital LFP field equipment.

Car boot and table top sales seem to have become increasingly popular these days in my home city, Bradford.  Recently, my husband and I took the plunge and set up a stall at a table top sale at a local church.  We made £50 for The Little Fireface Project, and decided to run another stall a couple of weeks later, where we made £35.  We also printed off information leaflets about the plight of the lorises, and what people can do to help them.  We gave out almost a hundred leaflets over both events.

Family, friends and neighbours donated bric a brac to sell, and my sister made cakes and scones, as well as donating plants.  She attends a sewing class, and even made shopping bags and cushions for the stall.  Her husband donated some motorcycle boots, which turned out to be worth so much money that we removed them from the stall and have put them on EBay to get a better price for them.  Friends and family have also come along to the events, bought items and made cash donations, and my dad has paid for the hire of the tables.

What we were not prepared for was the level of interest and concern shown by members of the public when we explained about the plight of the lorises.  Let’s face it, Bradford is a long way from Indonesia!  Why would anybody care?  But despite everything else going on in the world, and despite having troubles of their own, my fellow citizens have taken leaflets and engaged in conversations about the lorises.  Many bought items from the stall and told me to “keep the change”.  Generally speaking, most of the people we have met care about animals, no matter how far away they are.

Bradford is not a wealthy city.  It is predominantly working class and used to be the centre of the global wool trade (just ask my dad!).  The city has a proud history of welcoming people from all over the world, from the German wool ‘barons’ of Victorian times, to Europeans fleeing Nazi Germany, to people from Pakistan and India who came to work in the mills after the second world war.  We host the National Media Museum, we are the first UNESCO City of Film, and the Brontes were born here.  Over ninety languages are spoken in Bradford, but one word has been added to the local dictionary – Loris!  These little creatures have a small army of defenders growing in the most unlikely of places, a city often the victim of bad press and prejudice, but which has a heart of gold when someone, or something, needs help. – VL

Below is the text from fliers that Vicky made available at her table

YOU CAN HELP SAVE A SPECIES!

Lorises are shy primates that live in the rainforest.  They are unique because they use a venomous bite to catch their prey, BUT THEY POSE NO THREAT TO HUMANS.  They are critically endangered due to habitat destruction and because they are illegally caught and sold as pets. 

THE LORISES NEED EVERY FRIEND THEY CAN GET!!  PLEASE DON’T LET YET ANOTHER SPECIES DISAPPEAR…

  • Please visit http://www.nocturama.org to see the work of The Little Fireface Project, based in Oxford.  They are fighting to save the lorises.
  • Please sign their petition / make a donation
  • Please tell your family and friends about the lorises!!

THANK YOU!!

 

Loris venom investigated

Slow lorises are unique amongst primates in being the only group of venomous primates. Though special in this way, much research remains to be done to understand the role of venom in the ecology of the slow loris. Why are they venomous? Prof. Nekaris recently proposed a series of hypotheses as to the venom function of the slow loris:

1. Anti-predator behaviour
2. Defense against eco-parasites (parasites living on the skin/fur)
3. Communication between slow loris individuals
4. To help in catching prey

How do lorises catch insects and what role does their venom play?

These amongst other venom related questions are being answered by new team member and post doc Grace Fuller. Grace has joined the LFP team in January studying the role of loris venom on the captive slow lorises housed at Cikananga Wildlife Rescue Centre.

Grace is performing experiments in which she presents the lorises with a range of different insects of various sizes and toxicity and records the lorises reaction. She looks at how they catch the insects, how long it takes them to catch the insect, as well as what types of behaviours occur before and after catching an insect. For example does the loris start grooming once it has caught the insect prey?

All of these interesting experiments will help us to understand why lorises are venomous and aid in reintroduction of ex-trade lorises to the wild.

Many slow lorises are found in Asia’s illegal wildlife markets. Their teeth are regularly removed to make them “safe” to keep as pets. Removal of the teeth also removes the ability to use their venom. These individuals can not be returned to the wild, even if saved from the horrible trade markets. They spend the rest of their lives cared for by wonderful staff at Asia’s rescue centres. Those, however, that have fortunately been spared the cruel pulling of their teeth with nail clippers can potentially be reintroduced. The work done by Grace and the LFP team is vital to understand what these lorises need for reintroductions to be successful!

Special Events

Bridging the gap

After the sad death of our beloved loris Tahini, I (Denise Spaan) decided we had to do something to make sure the same would not happen to any other lorises. As the Javan slow loris is Critically Endangered we really can’t afford to lose any! And so the idea came to build loris bridges. Thanks to the kind donations of everyone over the Christmas period and the sale of the adoption packs February saw the first bridge go up. It is one thing having an idea, but seeing it become a reality is something else. I was so proud of the hard work of the LFP team and the result was astouding. A strong bridge that connected two trees in Api’s area. Api lives on a football field and the connectivity between her cozy bamboo sleep site and the other trees in the area is minimal. To make sure she doesn’t have to go to the ground to cross, we connected the two trees. Now all the remains is to see whether she is going to use it!

Last week the team were busy building again and managed to construct another 2 bridges. One of the them is 30m and connects a vital part of Ena’s area! They will go up this week and we will keep you posted.

To the salon!

Anna and I (Sharon Williams) took some time out from the busy loris duties in West Java to go to a salon in nearby Bayongbong for a full ‘wedding make-over’. We headed off on the back of motorbikes and I got to the salon looking like I had been dragged through a hedge backwards. What about Anna? I had better not say! Arif Salon is quite famous due to their superstar husband and wife team Nia & Arif, who between them have won many national and international awards for wedding and special event make-up. I felt the challenge was on for them! I am no spring chicken.

We spent eight hours in the salon being primped and pampered and trying on what felt like 120 of the most stunning traditional Indonesian style dresses and crowns. The salon is a training school, so students watched on as we were transformed. After three layers of false eyelashes were applied and dresses were decided upon, we had a ridiculously fun photoshoot.

Anna was a natural and the camera loved her. I on the other hand was awkward and couldn’t stop giggling, but we managed to get a few good photos.

After seeing the results, I am sure Arif is a magician.

It was such a fun and relaxing day and it was something I will probably only get the chance to do once in a lifetime.

Lady Gaga adds fuels to the slow loris fire

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAladygaga

Lady Gaga wanted to use an adorable slow loris in a scene for her new music video, but once the animal had ‘sunk its teeth into her’ – according to contactmusic.com – she banished it from set. This is the second bout of celebrity interaction with the Slow loris in the last 6 months and it is only going to bring more trouble for the endangered animal.

Back in September, Rihanna took a ‘selfie’ with a loris that had been the subject of the illegal pet trade and was being kept in a cage on the streets of Thailand. This prompted an influx of people declaring that they ‘wanted one’ as a pet – and an increase in views of viral videos on YouTube! The slow loris, of which eight species are currently recognised, is a wild animal that is in great danger of becoming extinct and this culture of keeping exotic animals as companions is primarily the reason. Celebrity endorsement of these creatures being cute is not going to help save them! The best thing celebrities could do to help would be to visit rescue centres such as the one in Cikananga and see the result of the pet trade on these poor individuals and support the charities working to protect them.

This incident involving Lady Gaga is even more bizarre though! According to Gigwise “sources reported that a baby kangaroo and exotic goat were also brought to set, but a Californian State Parks Department vetoed their use”. If this is the case, then why was the Loris allowed to be considered for use in the scene? The only saving grace for the species in this instance is that Lady Gaga was (apparently) bitten by the loris – proving that they are not an animal suitable for use as a ‘prop’ or to be kept as a pet.

Contactmusic.com reports that it was an animal trainer that bought all three animals to the shoot for consideration, but how did this person come to own a highly threatened animal such as the slow loris – potentially through the illegal wildlife trade – and why are they still in possession of it? If it is captive bred, US zoos are in dire need of these animals for their currently ‘red lit’ breeding programmes, meaning very few animals breed in captivity.

According to contactmusic.com “Gaga donated $250,000 to the Hearst Castle Preservation Foundation after completing the shoot to thank them for letting her use it”. Will she see the error of her ways and donate to conservation projects affecting the animals she hoped to use in the shoot too? (Or follow in the footsteps of Rihanna, who in fact promoted the photo prop trade). Celebrity endorsement of the charities that support and help protect these endangered animals is needed if we are ever going to ensure their survival – and to have someone as famous across the globe as Lady Gaga backing slow loris conservation via the Little Fireface Project would be amazing and would definitely help bring the plight of the slow loris to the masses. To even stand a chance she needs to know that we exist! With the help of Animals1st and wildeducation on twitter we hope to raise awareness and support for our work, so please get involved – follow LFP and Anna for more updates.

 

This wonderful simulator has been created by Mike Joffe to show just how unsuited to ‘pet life’ Lorises are – read more here. Also, you can sign the petition to remove viral videos from YouTube of pet/captive Lorises here.