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

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

 

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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.

Cipganti Pride Days and Cipaganti’s Got Talent!

The start of January also saw the start of the Cipganti Pride Days. The two day event held on the 11th and 12th of January was a huge success! We were invited to host parts of the events at the office of the village chief, which was a great honour! The first day included a range of activities from a coffee tasting, children’s book corner to introduce the new library, a photo exhibition and photo booth. Read more from Michael and Josie about their experiences with the latter two below!

In the afternoon we had a games afternoon on the football field for the children. It was wonderful! When the children had won their prizes for the sack races we decided to have a final race between the LFP team members. It was met with fits of laughter from the kids as tracker Aconk sabotaged the race by throwing all the sacs away, volunteer Sharon running with her sac in her hand and Denise tackling her when she saw that she would finish last. Other games included limbo dancing, egg and spoon races, and some local games. The games that the trackers had prepared were met with even more laughing! In one, they have large woven bowls (normally used to cool rice) and filled it with flour. They then mixed in some coins and the children had to sit, with their hands tied behind their backs and fish out the coins with their mouths. They all loved it! It was a great afternoon for all the team and the children of Cipganti!

Volunteer Micheal and the photo exhibition

 

Photographing ‘village life’ when I’m a wildlife photographer?  Well, as the day loomed, I thought to myself “How am I going to do this with no experience photographing this media?”  “Just think of the subject (people) as really large animals – like a Kangaroos!”  My fears were soon forgotten as the people of the small village of Cipaganti in West Java, Indonesia came out in force to put on a show that made my assignment not only easy, but incredibly enjoyable.  I never thought that I could be moved photographing people, until I met a beautiful older woman in the back lanes of the village.  When I showed her the photograph I had taken of her on my cameras screen, she was brought to tears and began to cry uncontrollably.  It was then that I realised that some of these people had never had their photograph taken and all of their childhood and adult memories were exactly that – memories!

The photographic exhibition that came out from this experience was received extremely well, as the villagers old and young, giggled and laughed together as they wandered through the display; seeing images of each other for the first time.  Such was the interest of the exhibition, the Kebala Desa (equivalent of town mayor) requested the exhibition be held indefinitely in his office hall. The entire process was one that I will never forget and the unique characters of Cipaganti will always remain with me.

Volunteer Josie’s Experience as Bunga at the Photo Booth

“Bunga” and Momma, “Tereh” feature in LFP’s book for children, “Tereh and Bunga: Forest Protectors” which details nocturnal life in the forest for the pair. However, in the last year both characters have been made into giant mascot costumes to feature in village events organised by LFP. Last year, Tereh took centre stage in our Slow Loris Pride days and – played brilliantly by tracker Adin – stole the hearts of the audience with her hilarious dance moves and naughty stage antics. Once again, Adin suited up as Tereh and took to entertaining the masses of children at our “Welcome Event” held in the Kepala Desa’s office (Head of the Village).

However, Tereh was not alone in her antics last weekend, our brand new Bunga suit debuted at “Cipaganti Mencari Bakat” – Cipaganti’s Got Talent. Bunga – played by myself – was available for “Aku cinta Kukang” (I love Slow Loris) photos at the Forest Protector Photo booth. Bunga also spent several hours working the crowd giving out hugs and posing for photos with visitors. Tereh and Bunga also played several hilarious games where the children had to try sneaking up on the lorises while they huddled in their sleeping balls at the centre of a big circle.

The several hours I spent dressed as Bunga were the hottest of my life! I must have got through half a gallon of drinking water just to stay upright. But the experience was brilliant! The children were so excited to play with their new loris friends. Many of them spent several minutes staring up in disbelief before deciding they just HAD to get involved in the festivities.

By the end of the afternoon, Bunga and Tereh had a whole posy following them everywhere. Everyone wanted to get a few snaps with the giant “kukang” and the photos are full of laughter. It was totally worth enduring the five thousand degree temperatures inside the mascot head just to see how much it made everyone at the event smile.

I’m back in the forest this week, but I think I should start wearing the suit out on second shift. It would definitely keep me warm when the 3am chill creeps in!

Read about Cipganti’s Got Talent in our next blog!

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!