A Princess Enters Loris Land

Hi, my name is Francis and I’m the new research officer for the Little Fireface Project and also a PhD student. I’m a city boy in the middle of nowhere and I can’t wait to see what happens next. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you about my research, the lorises and tales from the other side of the planet.

When you start a PhD you basically know what you want to do. Not what will happen. The loss and struggle for control is a hard thing to learn. I consider myself a very lucky person. I worked in reputable zoos as a keeper and then nutrition researcher and I was successful in enrolling in a PhD about primate conservation with the world’s expert on slow lorises as my supervisor. There go my plans of become a fancy rat breeder back in Canada (still plan B though).

We discussed and planned me doing my field work at the field station in Java, Indonesia and I knew it was going to happen but somehow I forgot to get ready and forgot to prepare myself mentally for it. Before I knew it, it was happeninnggg!!! Hopped on a giant double-decker bus with wings and I was off.
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After a week in Jakarta getting all of the federal permits and visas I needed and another week in Yogyakarta taking an intensive Indonesian course, I was finally in Cipaganti ie. Loris Land. Driving up the steep rock road up a volcano to Cipaganti really made me think “what the hell did I get myself into…”

The team is very nice, including the native trackers that all thought my name was “Princess”. Plus they don’t laugh too much when I slip on the muddy slopes and end up doing the splits in the middle of the night looking for lorises so that’s also good. They do laugh when I smash my head against every low door frame in every building ever though. On my way out of the Kepala Desa’s office (Village head, very important man) … smashed my face against the wall above the door frame. I was almost beheaded. The tracker laughed so hard he farted. I’m off to a great start.
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Francis or “Princess”

Lorises, tigers and bears –Oh my!

by Grace Fuller
Lately my work with lorises in Java has led me to spend a lot of time with the other residents of Cikananga Wildlife Center. One of the possible functions of slow loris venom is to repel predators, and I have been testing this hypothesis by observing behavioural reactions of potential loris predators to samples of venom collected from the Little Firefaces. So far, I have conducted tests with Malayan sun bears, orangutans, and three species of eagles: Javan hawk eagles, changeable hawk eagles, and crested serpent eagles. There are confirmed cases of orangutans and changeable hawk eagles predating on slow lorises in the literature, so the lorises have reason to be wary of these species!

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To conduct these tests, I offer a sample of the venom with a piece of food, which ensures that the predator is motivated to explore the test item. For the bears, this means wrapping a venom sample collected on a tissue around a piece of rambutan (a tasty local fruit) and sealing it with a drop of honey. In the future, I will be testing Javan leopards and other felid species at Cikananga, and I am hoping to venture outside the rescue center to conduct further tests with other potential predators including tigers, civets, and snakes. I have also been working with the sun bears to collect saliva samples (see photo) which I plan to use to measure hormones to determine if the loris venom elicits a stress response in the bears. Stay tuned for what I hope will be some interesting results!

Why do lorises produce toxic compound

One of the most interesting facts about the slow loris is that it is the only venomous primate. Slow lorises produce a toxic compound from their brachial glands (a patch of bare skin from their inside elbow up to their armpits), which they lick to combine with their saliva and “activate” the venom. The reason why slow lorises are venomous is still somewhat of an unsolved mystery.

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As part of my postdoctoral research with the Little Fireface Project, I am exploring some of the hypotheses for why slow lorises produce such toxic compounds. Is it to ward off ectoparasites, tiny bugs that live in their fur and potentially could transmit diseases to them? Is it to deter predators of the night, including owls, hawks, and eagles? Could the venom serve multiple purposes?

In order to answer these questions, myself and LFP volunteer Anna Zango have been conducting two separate phases of research. First, we have been conducting a series of experiments testing the responses of various insects to the venom of slow lorises, using a combination of saliva and brachial gland secretions. Second, we have been playing the sounds of predators to the lorises as they forage at night, to see if they have any interesting behaviors that might be related to using their venom. We have to carefully study their reactions, and some of the lorises actually move quite fast! Good thing Anna has such sharp eyes!

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This project has been incredibly interesting. I never imagined to see such specific responses. So far, the data suggest that slow lorises are a lot more complicated, unique, and special than many people realize. So, I am really excited to continue this research exploring how slow lorises use venom as an adaptation.

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?

 

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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.

Lorises Get New Bling

This week has been a busy week of catching and collaring lorises at the field site. First up was Sibau’s daughter Galaksi. It took trackers Adin and Dendi almost an hour to catch her, with Dendi hanging in the bamboo over the path and sliding down tree trunks like it was a fireman’s pole. Once caught, we placed Galaksi in a bag to keep her calm whilst we layed out all the materials needed to take her measurements and collect samples. We weighed her, collared her, and collected faecal and venom samples. What a beautiful loris she was, fit and healthy! She had very dark eye patches and a lovely dorsal stripe!

Next in line was our lovely loris Lucu. Lucu already had a collar but was collared quite young and therefore we wanted to make sure that she was doing okay. For months we had been wondering whether Lucu, meaning “cute” in Indonesian, was a boy or a girl and Anna brought some light to the situation. Lucu is a girl!!! She was very easy to catch and the entire process took less than 30 minutes. She was released back onto a nice tree close to where she had been caught and sprinted off into the distance. We checked on her an hour later and she was resting in the bamboo and grooming herself. When we looked to the side we saw an additional 2 uncollared lorises within 10m of her! What a social lady she is!

Education education education!

Education in Cipaganti

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This week our school session carried on the littering theme introduced to the children the previous week and was kick started with a litter pick around the school grounds. The children were asked to collect what rubbish they could find and it soon turned into an excited stampede of racing bodies as they all rushed to collect the most! After fifteen minutes of picking we then washed and dried the rubbish ready for a group discussion about what ‘treasure’ had been found. Wanting to give the children the opportunity to be creative in their thinking we asked them to imagine what their rubbish could be used for. After many minutes each group came up with their answers and some fantastic suggestions from lamp shades to stick houses were given.
The children were then shown slides of what people all over the world have used rubbish to make and each of them was blown away with what people had achieved from what is considered waste! Every child had their eyes glued to the screen and a lot of ‘Wow’s!’ escaped their lips.
After this injection of visual creativity we provided the children with plastic paint pot containers salvaged from a rubbish heap. Volunteer Charlotte pre painted them white ready for the session so that they could be decorated by the children and used as bins around the school.
Always eager to draw the children made group masterpieces out of the containers and at the end of the session each group personally installed their bin in a part of the school. It was wonderful to see that the bins were put to use straight away and the class seemed extremely proud of their days work!

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Nature Club

This week in nature club the children watched our ‘’Don’t Let Me Vanish’’ video. When it was finished, Pak Dendi instigated a recap on its contents to ascertain the children’s understanding and views on what they had just seen. Interestingly, when he reached a scene containing a dancing monkey he asked, ‘’Where does the monkey live and where does he come from?’’. To our surprise the children all answered, ‘’In the street!’’. Shocked Pak Dendi asked them again to reaffirm their answer but the same reply was given. This was incredibly interesting to learn that the children think these monkey’s live on the street and this is their normal environment. It goes to show that for many of them this is the only place they have known them to be. When the children were then told that in fact the monkeys also live in the forest like lorises, many seemed genuinely surprised!

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Continuing the session, with thanks to Msc student Brenda de Groot the children then coloured in her beautiful civet dot to dot and colouring page creations. It is very important that we not only teach the children about the lorises but also about other species, and like in the instance of the dancing monkeys, most of the children have no clue about these animals, and if they only see them caged and kept as pets, then this is how they will perceive them. The children enjoyed this activity so much and for the first time did not rush to finish but took their time and hardly a squeak was heard from any of them! When the session came to an end, all the children left with big smiles on their faces and requesting more dot to dot and colouring pages for next weeks session!

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New comers, tragedy, and a little loris lovin’

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These past two weeks have been busy busy busy in loris land! We started the week by welcoming short term visitor, veterinarian Luis Martinez to the field site. He helped Josie and Denise with the sleep site study, went on rounds and an observation shift from 17-23:30, all after a two day trip (and 4 flights) from Mexico! He also arranged a very interesting autopsy of a dead loris (see below). Now that is commitment to the loris cause!

One of the most shocking events came one afternoon. Tracker Pak Dendi rang the house and told us that there was a dead loris in the river by his house. When we arrived at his house indeed there was a dead loris lying beside the gutter. It seems that the poor thing must have drowned. We suspect that the heavy winds from a few days before blew him off a branch and into the river. So sad to see these wonderful creatures succumb to accidents, especially now that they have been up-listed to Critically Endangered on the IUCN red list.

Loris Liaisons!

Javan Slow Loris

 

As you might have read in our last segment (Bamboo Bed Hopping) the lorises have been getting at it these past two weeks. And the fun is not yet over! We recently saw Shirley adn her baby Utari together (above). Monday night Denise and Aconk found slow loris Lucu in the same tree as another loris. They were seen very close together, when not obscured by leaves and branches, and spent a good while feeding together in the same gum tree! What was especially memorable was that when there was some distance between them they were calling to each other using very high pitched squeaks. Tracker Dendi how has been tracking lorises for over a year now said that it was the first time he had heard the lorises make such noises.

Cipaganti is experiencing the start of the rainy season which means lots of rain and more worryingly- lots of fog! As there are wild pigs roaming in the forest during heavy fog we have to stop the observations as it gets too dangerous. You can’t see a thing! The other night, was particularly scary as we could hear an animal approach but not see that it was a house cat lost in the forest until the very last moment.

This week in Loris Land: Bamboo Bed Hopping

Our lorises have been very busy this week. It seems, there is something in the air which has spurred on a bout of frolicking. Lorises all over the land have been spotted doing the deed. On Saturday night Josie was subjected to three hours of loris liaisons of the sexy sort. She was out with tracker Aconk, observing golden guy Mo, it was a particularly cold second shift and she got more than an eyeful!

When the duo arrived to begin their observations of Mo he was lounging about and then put some serious effort into grooming. Little did Josie and Aconk know, he was actually getting himself ready for a big date!! After a while Aconk spotted the eyeshine of another loris edging towards Mo from a hiding place in the Kaliandra mereh. Initially the pair wondered if they were about to witness a standoff as the un-collared loris confidently wandered towards Mo. However, quite the opposite happened and the un-collared loris sidled up and began grooming Mr. Mo. After some social grooming and canoodling between the pair things began heating up and the lorises got down to business.

“At first I was absolutely amazed! I was to witness slow loris mating, it was really exciting. I thought this for about ten minutes, and then it went on and on and on. It actually got a bit embarrassing because they were at it for so long! Especially when Aconk said “Oh they changed position”, I really couldn’t hold back my giggles. In retrospect it was a really cool thing to see, since Javan slow lorises are now critically endangered, I actually witnessed something really special” says Josie.

The pair was inseparable for the rest of the night and for several hours afterwards they groomed one another and curled up on a branch– in a way to only be described as cuddling. They fell asleep early at around 4am, no doubt totally exhausted from their earlier antics.

Alas! That wasn’t the only fornication to take place in loris land this week. Playboy Azka has been up to his old tricks again, this time with cutie loris One Eye! The pair has been spending a great deal of time together of late and on several occasions have been recording sharing their sleeping site. Azka has put a lot of effort into developing a relationship with sweetie One Eye and the pair was observed foraging together last week. In addition, adorably the other night One Eye was seen grooming a baby loris! After a while of bonding between the two, Azka appeared and joined the mother and baby. He even had a turn at grooming the little one! At the end of the night Azka carried the little one on his belly as the trio ventured into the bamboo to sleep.  It was an adorable scene of happy families, although currently we’re unsure who the father of One Eyes baby is. All we can say is that the baby definitely takes after its father because it has two eyes!

Observations on Azka the other night found the trio together again in their bamboo home, grooming the little one for some time. After a while Azka and One eye ventured off together into the bamboo and the evening went in a particularly steamy direction. Again Josie and tracker Aconk – poor souls have witnessed a little too much ‘loris loving’ this week – observed the pair alternate between vigorous mating and foraging for insects for five hours! Our lorises are certainly using up lots of energy during their mating routine and require pauses to refuel!

“Love is in the air!” Aconk joked throughout the shift. At the changeover of shifts, Josie and Aconk explained Azka’s evening’s activities to Pak Dendi and Charlotte. The following morning Charlotte confirmed that the ‘loris loving’ had continued throughout the night and the pair merrily returned to their sleeping spot together.

Loris land has been more like a soap opera than a field site this week! It seems like there’s been a lot of ‘bamboo bed hopping’! We’ll have to keep you updated on our lorises antic’s in the following weeks. Who knows? We might witness another baby boom in a few months, so watch this space – things are heating up.