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.

 

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.

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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!

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?

 

Sharon

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.