PROTECTING THE LORIS – OUR LOCAL TRACKERS’ POINT OF VIEW

Trackers 1My name is Aconk and I have been working with Little Fireface Project (LFP) for 2 ½ years.  Even though I am the youngest working here, I was the first to start working with this new project.  My father, Pak Ade Jaja taught me how to walk in the forest and taught me how to identify animals and plants, including plants for medical purposes.   There were many myths about the slow loris, but I was not scared of them.  I had never seen one in the forest before I started with LFP.

KIARAThe local myths about the slow loris probably helped save the loris from the pet trade here in our village.  We believe that if the blood of a slow loris touches the ground all of the ground will dry up and the crops will die.  So, we never touched the loris.  We also believe that if a slow loris is in your house, your family will have bad luck or someone could even die!   I don’t believe these stories, but many people do.   City people don’t believe these myths, so this is bad for the slow loris.

Little Fireface Project is like a miracle to me and our village.  It has really changed the mind of people about caring for the forest, all animals and the environment.  LFP volunteers and staff (including us trackers) show local people how to maintain balance in the eco-system.  ACONK NUGRAHA and ADIN NUNUR with 'TOYIB'We have learned and taught that the ecosystem is important and that we should keep our environment healthy for our children and grand-children.  We don’t want them to only hear stories of what was here.   We share our experience and ideas with our community by holding movie days, pride day weekend events, nature club lessons for children and other impromptu events. Not only is LFP helping protect the loris, it is also providing jobs and income for our small and remote village. Children and adults are also learning English, which would be impossible for many of us, as we are so far from the nearest city.  We are also protecting other animals in the forest, not onlt the loris.  During our rounds, which we do seven days a week, we see many civets, owls, frogs and leopard cats.  Our community respect them and are especially proud of the Javan slow loris.

I work with three other trackers and they have similar positive things to say about LFP too. Pak Adin and Yiyi are two of our trackers who also work their farms here in West Java.  From a farmer’s perspective, they have learned that slow lorises and other mammals, birds and reptiles help keep pests at lower numbers.  Slow lorises are wonderful at eating insects and are really helpful, as many farms do not use insecticides.

Pak Adin has children that regularly attend our Nature Club classes.  They learn English and about the environment and that is REALLY important, as the children don’t really learn that at school.  LFP allows the children to try crafts and games that our small village has never seen or even heard of.

KidsEven the children, who are too young to attend Nature Club or school  like to play games with the volunteers and staff at LFP.  It’s always nice to hear that the children are involved in fun games.  Their favourite thing to do is colour in.  Nazmi, Yiyi’s son loves visiting the field station coordinator and sit and do colouring with her.

sHOPThe local shop owners also had very positive things to say about LFP.  They really enjoy seeing the ‘bule’ (local name for white people), as they always stop for a chat, even if they can’t speak Indonesian.  LFP support the local shops and the volunteers like to eat Indonesian cakes!

Before I started with LFP I could only speak Sunda (Javan language) and Bahasa Indonesian.  I am now advanced in speaking in English and Yiyi and Pak Adin are slowly learning.  We feel very proud to work with Little Fireface Project.

 

I guess we are lucky that laughter is an international language, and that we all get along really well.

Aconk, Adin and Yiyi – LFP Trackers

Education – Not just for kids!

I was planning on coming to Little Fireface Project (LFP) with my husband Michael to lend a hand with Nature Club, the environmental education program here and assist with loris observation data, for just three months. 12 months later, we are still here and I have found my bliss.
Nature ClubNature Club had a very good foundation and children were coming along and doing crafts and learning about nature and the slow lorises. The classes were very casual and the 12 or so children that came regularly had lots of fun, but I saw more …
I could see Nature Club had real potential and I immediately put my hand up to assist with building on this program. I had worked at a sanctuary in Australia and I was the environmental education coordinator there, so I had a million ideas running in my head. The great thing about Little Fireface Project is that I was given free rein to be creative and brainstorm with others as to what was needed.
NatureSo, after a few weeks of putting together lesson plans which covered audible, visual and kinaesthetic learning styles, the new NATURE CLUB was born, with much more structure. LFP Nature Club now has monthly environmental themes and we have already worked our way through forests, mammals, birds, insects, reptiles and endangered species (time does fly when you are having fun!) and future lesson plans will cover; colours and camouflage, recycling, ocean life and ‘the night’.
With over 30 children attending regularly now, our lessons need to be quite broad and adaptable, as the age group is from 5-14 years old. Many children cannot read or write yet, so much of the younger children’s lessons include lots of colouring pictures and visual activities. The older children who can read and write have pre/post questionnaires each month to see if what we are doing is working. The learning improvement of each subject has been astounding and including lots of hands on, games and outdoor activities really work for these kids!
Nature Club goes to SchoolLittle Fireface Project has kindly supported and sponsored two brand NEW Nature Club Classrooms as part of a new school in our village. The first stage of the school is due for completion in January 2015, so Nature Club will be split into two groups. We will now have a 5-10 year class and 10 year plus class. This means the 10+ can really get serious (with lots of fun, of course!) and do more field trips and outdoor studies, with even more structured learning.
nATURE cLUBOne single event that sticks in my head about the Nature Club children and their attitude toward wildlife was when we got a call one night about a slow loris in someone’s garden. There was a loris in their tree at their house. When our LFP rescue team got to the loris, to capture and relocate it, we discovered that three of our Nature Club girls (10 year olds) had found a Kaliandra flower and tied it to a long stick and put it near (but not too close) to the loris. When I asked why they did what they did, their easy reply was “because we know Kaliandra is their favourite food and we know that we can’t put out hand near the loris, because they are venomous”. To me, that whole event was amazing for two reasons. The local people know that the lorises belong in the forest and they really respect them and the children had learned about what the loris needed and its habits.

KidaNature Club is forever evolving and I am now trying a few new ideas, and the new ideas are working.
Now each class has an ‘in disguise’ public speaking aspect to it and the children who would once run from the class crying are now proudly and LOUDLY standing up in class and sharing their knowledge and stories. We also now have homework each week, so the children take it home Pak Dendiand ask for help from their parents (remember, many children can’t write yet), so the parents are getting involved too!
So basically, Nature Club is a huge success and I could NOT do it without the much needed help of our local manager/teacher, Pak Dendi and our trainee teacher, Sri. I must admit, Nature Club is always the favourite activity of our volunteer students from overseas too! They always put their hand up to help, as Indonesian kids are truly amazing and way too much fun!
The whole Nature Club program is done on a very tight budget and we just get creative with how we do things. We make our own paints, play-dough and recycle our paper and bottles.
I found my bliss I tell you … Bliss!

Sharon Williams – Field Station Coordinator / Environmental Education Officer

The journey to save Java’s Jungle Gremlins

By Anna Nekaris

The slow loris of Java is one of the most distinct of all of Asia’s lorises. Its large eyes are surrounded by deep and dark forks that stretch down to the tips of its cheeks, and meet at the crown of its head to form a long stripe down its back. These beautiful stripes are so characteristic that it is no wonder that in 2003, after its initial discovery in the 18th century, that Javan slow lorises were confirmed as a distinct species.

I always knew that the Javan slow loris was beautiful. I knew also that many researchers encountered them in the pet trade. At the same time, I also knew that all of Asia’s lorises needed to be studied, counted in the wild, and even identified as species. Since the early 1990s, I had focussed on the slow lorises smaller cousins – the slender lorises. But the call to work on the larger slow loirs was great and I soon found myself journeying to study these remarkable creatures throughout SE Asia – from India to China…to Thailand to Singapore to Malaysia…to Sumatra, to Borneo and Vietnam…so many problems to identify – medicinal trade, bushmeat, black magic, photo props and pets…the lorises of Asia seemed to be exploited for just about everything…

With every colleague that travelled to Java and witnessed the loris’ plight there, the cry from that particular place became louder. Where were the wild lorises? So many in markets but none in forests…and worse yet, those that were rescued inevitably had their teeth cut out…so in 2006 I ventured to Java for the first time to see the illegal wildlife trade there and to help start the first major rescue centre for Indonesia’s slow lorises. In simply measuring these lorises, we affirmed that Javan slow lorises were indeed a distinct species, and found evidence for two new species as well.

This was the start of intensive research on Asia’s slow loris. There was just so much to know – and that included radio tracking them in Cambodia with Carly Star, mapping their distribution in Borneo, measuring every museum specimen I could to work out where they should occur in the wild and what species we would find there, studying their wild ecology in Northeast India with Nabajit Das, and finally, sending Javan slow lorises back to the wild for the first time with radio tracking with Richard Moore.  Despite our knowledge of other lorises, however, it was not enough…and our reintroduced lorises and those awaiting their fight in rescue centres were dying…

So in 2010, we started our wild studies of Javan slow lorises. In 2011, we attracted the attention of the BBC who decided to make a film about our research – the Jungle Gremlins of Java. This film served several remarkable purposes. From 2009 onwards, the world got to know slow lorises through a series of viral videos that were cute at first glance but revealed the tip of the iceberg of a cruel and illegal pet trade. It had been hard to convince the viewing pubic why it was cruel to keep nocturnal animals awake in the day; tree dwelling animals with no branch to touch; exudate specialists made obese and diabetic on a diet of sugar rich fruit; social primates kept alone and apart from their own kind….the list goes on…

Jungle Gremlins of Java changed that – the story, developed by award winning director Stephen Gooder, and championed by Icon Film’s Harry Marshall, was able to convey my own quest to research and conserve these amazing primates, but to tell it to an audience that was apt to care, but needed to know the facts in a thoughtful way. So many people who loved lorises because they were cute now loved them because they were amazing and realised that these special rare primates belonged in the wild.

The trade has not stopped. The YouTube videos go on. People still want one as a pet…and sadly the teeth of slow loris’ are still being ripped out in the hope that they will not bite their owners with their unique venom. Jungle Gremlins of Java has made the rounds now in more than 52 countries, but has only aired once back in January 2012 here in the UK. We hope that the many new people introduced to slow lorises from those cute but cruel videos will get a chance to see the truth behind their story and help support the Little Fireface Project in the their efforts to save them.

 

Survey by the Seaside

DSC02879The pretty beach resort town of Pangandaran on West Java’s southern coast is comparable, in the busy season, to parts of Bali. However during our trip last weekend, many of the sandy beaches, clear seas and row after row of beachfront hotels and restaurants stood empty. Despite the current lack of crowds, the seasonal tourist flow in Pangandaran has resulted in a year round array of  ‘traditional batik’ clothing shops, banana boat rides, and unique souvenir stalls selling a myriad of goods ranging from hand-made leather bracelets to hand-stuffed animals. Sited amongst the typical gift options sit stuffed turtles, monitor lizards, dried inflated puffer fish and a range of huge and magnificent – and illegal – sea shells.

It was to be me along with two other representatives of the Little Fireface Project (for whom I am currently volunteering with) that would be travelling the six hour journey from our field station to Pangandaran in order to survey these illegal gifts.

DSC02919DSC02904Katy, Katherine and I struggled through the intense heat, surviving only with the help of several ice-cream breaks. We made our way through the town and beachfront shops photographing and subtly noting numbers of these distasteful souvenirs as we went. The sheer volume of illegal shells was staggering. The vendors here were keen to show off their wares and would assist in arranging them in order for me to take the photos. With us playing the role of unaware casual tourists we were told we could get a large stuffed monitor lizard for Rp150,000 (about £7.50) and a nautilius shell for Rp180,000 (about £9) – and that was without any attempt at haggling the price. We saw seven sea turtles; adults and small juveniles. The casual attitude and cheap asking price that accompanied the carcasses of these once wonderfully docile and majestic animals was increasingly hard to bear. The chest and edge of the turtle’s underside had been closed with heavy, haphazard stitching which just added to the morbidity of the situation.

DSC02930Amongst the other delicately decorated trinkets, the reality behind these larger souvenirs can be overlooked. Tourists on a ‘holiday high’ can easily forget that the unusual gift they just purchased was a living sentient being that was slaughtered and sold on for a price not at all reflective of that animal’s worth, nor of the ecosystem in which it was living. There are so many reasons not to buy this type of memento; not only are some of the goods for sale illegal and carry the real risk of heavy fines (or even incarceration) if discovered, but the purchase of them creates a demand which further threatens already declining populations and their remaining habitats.

Photographing a surfacing sea turtle; a wild monitor lizard or the lucky find of a rare seashell, will all come with longer lasting memories that will indeed be much easier to pack in your suitcase at the end of your experience. But also, in addition to your beautiful and unique photographs, the clear conscience you will be rewarded with is something that you could never put a price on.

Jess Wise – Student Volunteer

How to Cure Homesickness

It has been 6 months since I first got to Indonesia to work at the Little Fireface Project (LFP) and conduct my PhD field work. Before this my serious experiences away from home (every post I make I seem to include that I am from Canada but I want to be SURE you all know I am Canadian) included a two month research volunteer position in Honduras and when I moved to the UK to pursue my Master’s degree. All of those times I suffered from homesickness, why did I think this time would be any different? Turns out some people do, some people don’t. I do.

I was super busy when I first got to Indonesia and I was with my supervisor, it just felt like a cool exotic trip. Learning lots of stuff, visiting different cities and staying in hotels while I get my permits and learned Indonesian, so far so good. Little did I know I hadn’t actually done anything yet. It first happened before the long journey to an intensive week long Indonesian course. We were sitting in a Pizza Hut in Bandung oddly enough, with some friends of the LFP station coordinator. I was chatting away with Anna, my supervisor, and she mentions how reclusive the area is, and how I will have to live with an Indonesian family to immerse myself and how there will be no internet. No internet. N-O I-N-T-E-R-N-E-T. Well that was it, the beast was unleashed. My face could not stop my tears and my sobs. I felt so bad for the 4 Aussies I had just met. Talk about awkward. Plus, a white person crying his eyes out in Pizza Hut in Indonesia. More awkward. Sitting on a bench being sandwiched in by 2 people on each side and not being able to escape. Utterly, mortifying.

When the beast takes over (I will henceforth refer to homesickness as the beast) all rationality goes out the window. Nothing matters except this very moment of suffering. Knowing the course is just a week. Doesn’t matter. Knowing that at this second I DO have internet connection. Doesn’t matter. All the beast cares about is making you focus on that awful feeling in your gut and keeping it that way.

When I moved to the UK it took me 3 months to tame the beast (I know … I know). Crying alone in my room like a 6 year old for 3 months and waiting for anyone I know to log onto skype so I can cry to their faces has its perks but having a fun time (or keeping my dignity) is not one of them.

Things can seem much lonelier than they really are

Things can seem much lonelier than they really are

Fighting off the beast is actually possible but incredibly difficult but here are my top tips:

  1. Always say YES!

You will want to recluse yourself and you will say “I just want to be alone right now”. Worst decision you can do. The beast can feast on you if you are alone. You’ll have nothing to do but focus on how sad you are. Even if you barely know your housemates, go out with them for a pint. It will lessen your pain I promise you and help you establish a friend network in your new area.

  1. Exercise

As quote from one of my favourite films “exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t kill their husbands”. Again, you won’t feel like it but get off your ass and go jogging. It is for the good of your brain chemistry which is out of whack right now.

  1. Keep busy

I am now obsessed with insect trapping. Most fail miserably but it gives me something else to focus on besides the seething pit of despair in my heart. I joke but you understand what I mean. In the UK it became my studies and going on as many dates as possible (don’t judge me). Although that is a good point, many hormones are produces when you flirt, which makes you very happy and banishes the beast for a while anyway.

Francis fiddling with a malaise trap.

Francis fiddling with a malaise trap.

  1. Establish yourself in your new area

You need to feel like you belong. One way to do this is by making friends, joining a club, getting a part time job etc. In the field these are less likely to be options but you must try to integrate yourself somewhat. Anything that makes you connected to this part of the world. Visiting and exploring also does this.

  1. Forget about the past

That may seem harsh but let me tell you a little story. I used to be in a serious relationship when I moved to the UK. Long distance sucked. I left my entire being back in Canada which stopped me from enjoying myself in the UK. Thankfully the relationship was toxic and soon ended. As soon as it did … I started having a blast and fell in love with the UK. I’m not saying dump whoever you are with, but you need to be allowed to enjoy yourself in your area, you need to be 100% present in the now. No part of you can remain back home during this period or the beast will always have the jump on you and make you wish you weren’t where you are now. Have fun with your friends here and now.

And lastly 6. Find a safe place

For me it was Starbucks (they all look the same worldwide, quelled the beast). Now any café with wifi will do. Don’t wait until you feel awful to go, make it a weekly treat if possible. I trek to the nearest town every Sunday for a cup of coffee, air conditioning and wifi and it is glorious.If you are remote and alone doing fieldwork, write letters and keep a diary. It will keep you from going crazy and take it one day at a time.

It may feel like it will last forever and you are better of at home but … just think how jealous your friends are of you right now. Milk it! The beast is never slayed, only put to rest and it does routinely come back. Just remember how powerful you are and how powerful you’ll be after you live through this experience. Wordly, even?

Francis Cabana

 

Nature Club goes to the Zoo

Already hot by 8am in West Java, but our Nature Club kids were keen to get their much anticipated day off and running; today had been organised well in advance and so, must have seemed like an eternity  for them.  We eventually packed our adventurous Nature Club crew along with, some mum helpers and, of course LFP’s volunteers and trackers into two tray trucks and headed on our way to Garut Zoo to learn more about our focus for this month – endangered species.

Most of the wildlife to be encountered here in our little village and surrounding areas is nocturnal, and as the children (and the majority of adults) are too scared to venture into the forest at night,
we decided the next best thing would be to experience the local zoo.  ‘Local’ or ‘nearby’ in Indonesia means a 2 hours drive on amostly stoned and unsealed road.  The kids being kids loved the trip as they screamed with laughter each time there was a new big bump that would send them flying up into the air.  Our volunteers however, were not so amused.  I was fine; I sat in the front, as I suffer greatly from travel-sickness!  The road trip from our village to the zoo was long and hot and yes, a few children were eventually quite ill from the bumpy and windy roads, but they quickly recovered when they saw the zoo entry.

A quick head count; name tags on; an explanation of their planned tasks and it would be teams of six including an adult that would venture into all corners of the large zoo.  Katy, our student volunteer and superstar (who has a new found passion for education) and I had pre-prepared specific activities for the children to complete during their visit which included; describing the animal’s habitats; noting any diets that were detailed on interpretative boards, or that could be found out by asking any of the zoo staff; and most importantly for this exercise whether they animals are a common, threatened or endangered species.  We offered the smaller children a ‘picture animal trail’ sheet so as they could include more visual attributes of the observed animal such as; stripes, scales, webbed feet, large beaks etc.  With the older children, we offered a more in-depth ‘seek and record’ sheet that would require them to take more of an interest in what they were looking at.

The zoo was host to a number of wild cats and like many zoos around the world, birds played a significant role in the visitor’s viewing experience.  There were also several species of primates from Asia represented.  The zoo did not have slow lorises, but considering all of the children share their village home with lorises and being involved with LFP’s education programs; they are of course extremely familiar with the species.

Indonesian children are rather competitive when it comes to this kind of ‘search for clues’ exercise and enjoy trying to find more than each other and as much information as possible.  My team (not being biased or anything) would ask zoo staff for directions to the next animal or show the pictures to the keepers asking them for any extra information on the animals to maybe give them the edge they needed to win.  Was this cheating? No of course not, this was being creative and incredibly enterprising for such young Nature Clubbers. It was in the end, a great way to save their little legs and valuable time that would be used to get back first to our lunch at the gazebo!  We didn’t manage to arrive first unfortunately, but we did come in second place which was a great effort from our team.

I will be very interested to see how the children interpret the incredibly important subject of animal decline throughout endangered species month at Nature Club.  Coming into this activity the children were asked to name an endangered species, in which only two animals were recognised; the Javan Slow Loris (go figure!) and the iconic and well publicised orangutan.

IMG_9140So far our Nature Club ‘themed months’ have proven extremely successful.  With every theme, I organise a pre and post questionnaire for the children who are old enough to read and write, which includes a mix of drawing and writing answers required.  With each theme that is completed great improvement with knowledge and awareness has been demonstrated, which in turn tells us that learning here is much more effective when done in a fun and ‘hands on’ way.

Our new ‘secret’ Nature Club House that is currently being built in the new Muslim school means the children will have their own wonderful space to be creative, learn and explore. Environmental Education here will continue to grow and I am so glad to be a part of it.

Sharon Williams – LFP Field Station Coordinator/Environmental Education Officer

Top Reasons why Slow Loris Pet Videos ARE Cruel

by Anna Nekaris

I am asked over and over again why slow loris videos are cruel – do they really show animal cruelty? It is hard to understand the behaviour and nuances of an animal that one has seen possibly for the first time on a video like ‘slow loris eating riceball,’ ‘slow loris being tickled’ or ‘slow loris goes out for a walk.’ But as a person who has studied these animals for more than 20 years – who knows them like Cesar Milan knows his dogs or Monty Roberts knows his horses – I can emphatically tell you that these videos are not only cruel – they break my heart.

So here it is – a list of what any would-be slow loris conservationist needs to know, and ammunition to apply to the comments sections of YouTube videos…WHY loris videos are cruel. The information will hopefully be published in a manuscript that I am preparing with my colleagues Asier Gil Vasquez and Louisa Musing, and are based on the five freedoms of animal welfare. Watch this space for the upcoming paper!

Table 1. Violations of the five freedoms in slow loris vidoes.

Condition Description of the condition Why its wrong
Human contact The individual was either; touched, stroked, manipulated, handled or held by a human.

 

Exotic animals are generally unfamiliar with human contact and forced proximity or handling can cause severe stress or discomfort (Morgan and Tromborg 2007).
Day light The individual was observed in daylight or artificial daylight conditions. Lorises are nocturnal primates and being subjected to day light conditions, without reversing their light cycle or providing adequate night lighting, severely neglects their behavioural needs and impacts their health (Fitch -Synder & Schulze 2001, Nekaris & Bearder 2011).
Signs of stress The individual showed signs of stress: defence threats, crouching, folded mouth, freezing, stereotypic behaviour, attacking (i.e. biting), scratching, scream or chitter vocalisations (Fitch-Snyder and Schulze 2001). While stress can be considered a necessary requirement in predator avoidance, chronic stress can cause stereotypic and abnormal behaviours, and severely implicate health and psychological well-being (Morgan and Tromborg).
Unnatural conditions Natural substrate or vegetation were not evident throughout the duration of each video

 

Slow lorises are predominantly forest dwelling primates that move by slow climbing and bridging, and have home ranges between 2 and 20 hectares (Nekaris and Bearder 2011). Being housed in small cage enclosures, subjected to an environment which contains no substrate or vegetation does not meet basic slow loris behavioural needs (Fitch-Synder and Schulze 2001, Fitch-Synder 2008).
Isolation Additional slow loris individuals (irrespective of species) were not present throughout the duration of each video. Primates are social animals (Cowlishaw and Dunbar 2000) and suffer greatly when they are deprived of social interaction or stimuli   (Mallapur and Choudhury 2003, Honess and Marin 2006)

Table 2: images from illegal slow loris videos showing violations of five freedoms of animal welfare – even the ‘good’ images look pretty cruel to me who has seen the lorises’ beauty in its wild habitat! Knowing these animals were stolen from the wild makes it all a bit worse.

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 19.02.04

 

The day my heart broke

I’m Australian, resilient and tough!  That’s who I am.  If life has taught me anything, it is to take things on the chin and get on with life.   Not much fazes me, until now.

Since I can remember, I have always been involved with the protection of wildlife and the habitat that supports it.  I’ve seen some terrible things and I’ve fought some horrible fights.  Everything from working with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to ‘after dark’ animal rescues has been part of my world.

More recently however, I have been volunteering with the Little Fireface Project in West Java, Indonesia.  As part of my field station role here I am responsible for gathering data on the atrocious wildlife markets.  In the larger cities which include Jakarta and Bandung, every animal you can imagine is for sale; otters, porcupines and the ‘protected by law’ critically endangered slow lorises are just three species I see on a regular basis.  Two porcupines ‘protected by law’ have been in separate cages for more than four months. It seems that porcupines are not cute enough to keep as pets, so rather than return them to the place where they were stolen from, they suffer day in day out in a cage that is barely big enough to allow them to turn around in and of course, without any form of enrichment.  This is by no means the worst thing to witness, so I carry on, collect the information and inform the ‘authorities’ when I identify protected species for sale.   I sometimes feel that my efforts are in vain, as the wildlife continues to be offered for sale in hot, dusty, sometimes humid and extremely unsanitary, cramped conditions.  I often wonder ‘why do I bother?’, but I’m resilient remember, and I must continue on.  The situation for so many lives is so very sad, but my heartbreak was still to come.

IMG_9046After leaving the markets I drove along a busy road between two cities, Bandung and Garut.  It was a Saturday in October and the traffic was loud and backed up for miles; taking around one hour to drive 7km.  Three lanes in each direction; car and motorbike horns constantly tooting on top of loud music blaring from the surrounding vehicles – The worst 7km I have even driven!   I could hear out-of time-drumming, very loud drumming combined with cymbals clanging.  On the median strip between the two directions of traffic, were elderly people sitting on pieces of dirty cardboard begging for money.  A blind women cradling a baby in her arms begged incessantly for more money hoping to appeal to the compassion of a sympathetic passer-by.  In amongst the frenzied mayhem, I witnessed something that would etch into my memory and stay with me.  The drumming and cymbal clanging that I could hear was the ‘topeng monyet’ or dancing monkeys.   This incredibly cruel and disturbing form of local entertainment was something that I had heard about, but had never witnessed with my own eyes.  Each monkey that is forced to perform is, over many months, brutally tortured into submission and forced to stand up on its hind legs to dance, all while dressed in humiliating clothing accompanied by a mask or dolls head while the cruel owner bangs a small drum and cymbal.  I believe this was not the intended life for any species on earth.  The primates that are used in this ritual are macaques and are often stolen from the wild.  Until a recent trip to Borneo, I had never even seen them before.

IMG_9042I watched juvenile macaques shackled by a chain wrapped around their neck, being forced to dance around in between the stationary vehicles begging for money.  From my car a very small macaque was chastised for ‘misbehaving’.  This ‘misbehaving’ of course, was something as innocent as taking his mask off which, considering constantly dancing during the heat of the day that it could be expected.  As a result of the macaque’s disobedience, a hard tug on the chain triggered a high-pitched scream from the little macaque that could be easily heard over the unbearable traffic noise.

The traffic jams (marcet) that are incredibly common throughout Indonesia are loud and extremely chaotic at best, but all of this coupled with the unnatural duty of being forced to perform and the relentless brutality dealt out by the macaque’s uncaring owners could only be interpreted as hell on earth for this peaceful creature.

IMG_9053Here are some photos we took from the car as we went past. (Thanks for your help Katy and Rebecca).  We saw six monkeys performing on the median strip that day and it eventually it took a toll on me, as I could only sit and cry – helpless to the fact I could do nothing to end their suffering at the hands of my very own species.  I must confess, with all of the injustices I have IMG_9051witnessed, handed out to animals by uncaring and cruel human beings, it has been a long time since I have felt this way.  This was the day my heart truly broke and I’m not sure it will ever be the same again.  Even writing this I choke up.  How could this ever be fair for them?

Another sad part of this story, that really does sum up the people who support this cruel industry, is that the ‘monkey torturers’ were being thrown money from almost every single car in that traffic jam.  So I ask, what about the blind woman with the baby?  Well, I can tell you, for the entire time we were in that specific traffic jam, the woman cradling the child never received one coin – I guess she wasn’t entertaining enough.

It is illegal to showcase ‘topeng monyet’ in the city of Jakarta, but elsewhere in Java it seems to be an accepted practice.   Although there are organisations fighting very hard to stop this atrocious practice, the profiteers just pack up and move on to the next place.

Sharon Williams – LFP Field Station Coordinator/Environmental Education Officer

If you travel to Indonesia or any other part of the world, I just ask that you never support this cruel and torturous exploitation.  

Read a short article about the treatment of dancing monkeys here. observers.france24.com

Photographs courtesy  Wild Volunteer

The Mark of the Guardians

When a student applies for a conservation grant for their research projects, one of the questions always asked is: How will this project ensure conservation action continues after said project is finished? Or something to that effect. As a lowly student, it is very difficult to imagine yourself in a position to forever change the area where you plan on working, but it is what we all want. We all want to leave our mark.

lfp1I am very happy to say that through team effort, the Little Fireface Project has left its mark (on top of the conservation action and contributions to science and animal husbandry). Last week we have begun building a Muslim school in the village which is free of tuition. Any family will be able to send their children there, regardless of their financial status. When school isn’t in session, LFP’s Nature Club will be able to use the room to teach the village children all about nature. Our field station coordinator Sharon has been doing amazing things with the Club and now, ideas seem to have no limit! What I find truly amazing, is that the entire village is chipping in and building the school by hand. This is very humbling and something you’d never see in a western city … then again you wouldn’t see wild lorises there either!

lfp2Part of our research looks into the feeding ecology of the Javan slow loris in a very disturbed habitat. Plant diversity is very low yet they seem to thrive here. After we have finished identifying what plant species are used for what purposes, and their abundance, we will be able to specifically choose what plant species are the MOST important to the lorises. We will then buy/collect seeds and grow saplings with the help of the Nature Club children. They will see the entire life cycle of the plant from seeds to mature plant (I loved doing that in grade school biology class, hopefully they will too!). Children will then donate these saplings to farmers to plant between their plots to increase useable habitat for the lorises.

UNCOLLARED_0899This would never have been possible without the help of the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and Colombus Zoo. Thanks to them and a solid LFP team effort (and a whole village of lovely people with hidden talents), we are able to leave our mark in loris land. Forever teaching children about nature and cultivating a sense of pride. After all, they are the guardians of some very unique and charismatic wildlife.

Francis Cabana

Village Life

CIPAGANTI MOSQUEI never thought I’d be so lucky as to be given the opportunity to live in a place like this.  It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.  Climbing onto a roof at 5am to watch the burnt orange sun rise from behind a mountain is pretty special.   And the roofs themselves are just spectacular – terracotta as far as the eye can see.  Well, that is until the eye sees down into the valley where the closest town is, and even then the views are no less wonderful, especially at dawn or dusk when lights are still twinkling on and off.  Then if you look further you see mountains shrouded with greenery that appear blue-grey in the early morning light.  Beyond that I can’t say, but I’m sure it’s equal in beauty.  I could sit here and talk about the view and how much I love it all day long.  But I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.  Onto life in the village.

I really have nothing to go by for comparison, so I can’t say whether this month has been busy or not in terms of normal village life.  It’s definitely been easy to settle in.  The local people treat you like you’ve always been here, always saying “hello” with a smile.  And the children are so wonderful!  Being able to interact with them during sessions such as Drama Club is one of the reasons why I’m so grateful for the opportunity.  Obviously there’s a slight language barrier, due to the fact that my Bahasa Indonesia is abysmal.  But I’m slowly learning, and having the opportunity to learn another language is another bonus to being here.

A personal highlight of the past month regarding village life has been having the opportunity to cook with some of the locals and learn some authentic Indonesian recipes.  It’s so different to any way I’ve ever cooked before and the flavours are just beautiful – herbs and spices and roots that I’ve never heard of; it leaves me wondering where I’ll be able to find them when I return home.  And obviously I wouldn’t be able to describe the cooking without a mention of cassava, my new favourite food.

All in all, the first month in the village has been an amazing experience.  I’ve made new friends from across the globe – America, Australia, Canada, and of course, Indonesia.  If the next eight months follow in the footsteps of this first one, I can’t imagine I’ll ever want to leave.

Katy Elsom – Student Volunteer