I’ve Arrived!

Hello everyone!  I arrived in Indonesia on the evening of Tuesday 28th April, by the time I’d reached base camp at LFP on the Wednesday afternoon I’d taken over a 100 photos!  This is my first time in Indonesia; it has so much going on; beautiful green countryside, extraordinarily friendly people and crazy roads!

Rice-field_Melissa-AndertonSo far I’ve said goodbye to Lewis – a volunteer here at LFP as well as a friend from home, in fact, if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be here, and Jess – the longest serving volunteer here and someone so full of knowledge I’m feeling a little lost without her!  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Sharon (project co-ordinator), Michael (Media officer) and the four trackers – Dendi, Aconk, Adin and Yiyi.  They have all been so wonderfully positive and I’ve really enjoyed spending time with them, they’ve made me feel so welcome!

Lewis-Leaves-LFP_Melissa-AndertonThe way of life is shockingly different from the U. K. and I think this makes it a little easier to become a part of it – I cannot compare it at all!  I went on my first shift with Dendi on Thursday evening to find and record the position of each of the collared lorises – it was so cool to finally see them!  I think at the moment Rasi is my favourite – I managed to get a really good shot of him chilling out on a banana leaf!  He looked absolutely beautiful.  It really was an experience I’ll never forget.

Nature-Club-01.05On Friday I joined Sharon and Jess at Nature Club – this is a class that is organised and run at the local school by Sharon from LFP and Dendi (one of the four trackers and also the builder and owner of the school) to help educate the local children about the wildlife in the area and the world of nature in general!  The children were all there voluntarily and it was great to see their enthusiasm towards learning about nature.  During the walk to and from the school I was surprised to see so many people smiling, waving and saying hello to us.  The people here are so friendly!

Rasi_Melissa-AndertonFriday night was my first observation shift.  Jess, Aconk and I set out at 11 pm in the hopes of finding Pak-B before moving on to observe Toyib…unfortunately it had been raining for 6 hours non stop – and pretty heavy, by the time we left it had stopped, but then at about 12.30 after hiking around rice fields and forest areas, it started raining again…we took shelter in a farmers shack to wait it out expecting it to cease, 5 am came and went and we were still stuck in the hut!  Eventually we had to brave the ran, after 4 and a half hours…I was so gutted that we didn’t get to see any Lorises.

My first weekend here I had the opportunity to visit a hot springs (pretty much a warm swimming pool outside) – it has some amazing views of the mountains surrounding the town.  This week has been pretty hectic with Jess leaving us; Sharon and I took a trip to survey an animal market in an Indonesian town, while at the same time seeing Jess off.  It was so hard for me to see wild animals with so much beauty, in cages; birds, reptiles, mammals the lot were caged or leashed…babies separated from their mothers, some so frightened they were rocking back and forth, others scrambling over each other in cramped cages.

I had a late shift last night to watch Toyib…man did he move!!  Adin and I were constantly moving through fields and trees (I slipped countless times – which Adin seemed to find hilarious!) to get a view of him.  It was a great chance for me to get acquainted with the fastest mover of the clan…I don’t blame him really, if I had the agility of a loris I’d be constantly on the move too!

That’s all for now, I’ll keep you all updated with the goings on here at LFP from a volunteers point of view next month!

Melissa – Student Volunteer

Calling all entomologists!

LC-Blog-2-Picture-1Whenever you set foot outside, whether it’s day or night, you are bound to see an insect of some description. Look hard, you might just see something cool, look even harder and you will probably see something spectacular.

When I’m not on shift, you can find me in the forest finding out what’s new. It seems now that every time I do, I find something just as odd, or even more so than I did the last time. With the help of Michael, my partner in crime, we have collectively managed to compile a moderately sized archive of all the weird and wonderful creepy crawlies West Java has to offer. Now there are far too many to fit in just one blog, so here’s a few of my favourite findings:

LC-Blog-2-Picture-3LC-Blog-2-Picture-2Here we have the coconut nettle caterpillar (Setora nitens). Michael and I found these critters underneath the leaves of a coffee plantation, and they come in the most amazing colours. Being a marine biologist, the closest I got to identifying this was a nudibranch (sea slug). They are equally as colourful, and most likely equally as poisonous.

I’m not 100% sure about this one, but I’ve rooted around and had a stab at what I think it may be, a Leaf False Katydid. They’re pretty common; it’s almost difficult not to see one, even though they are conspicuously shaped like a leaf. This little feller (lower left), however, couldn’t have been any less camouflaged if he tried. I can only describe the colouration as the orange you would find in a carton of Sunny D. Still a pretty cool find.LC-Blog-2-Picture-5 LC-Blog-2-Picture-4

Some of the hardest insects for me to photograph here have been the butterflies. Just when you think they have landed for a rest long enough to snap, off they go again. Here I was lucky enough to capture this beautiful courtship on camera after begging my way in to someone’s garden for a close enough view. These are Great Mormon butterflies (Papilio polytes), above we have the female and below is the male. Shortly after taking this photo they flew off again, and when I say they, I mean the female flew off and carried the male underneath her.

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Next up we have an individual in a group of over two and a half thousand species. This is a spotted tiger beetle, I couldn’t get the species name, but can you honestly blame me? Tiger beetles are adapted to sprinting to catch their prey. You can’t see it in this photo, but their front consists of a powerful set of mandibles that I wouldn’t want to get my fingers trapped in. Supposedly these beetles, this one being roughly 3.5cm in size, can reach speeds of up to 9km/hr. To scale this up for you, imagine running over 500 times your own body length per second. Not hard to believe when their feet look like a pair of Nike Pros.

LC-Blog-2-Picture-7Last up, we have a species of weevil closest identified as a Cyrtotrachelus sp. I’m not sure about the common name as these vary depending on the website you use. Some identify them as palm weevils whilst others identify them as bamboo weevils. I just don’t know. We managed to whittle this one down by its size (~40mm) and pattern on its back. They can also sometimes be identified based on their diet.

LC-Blog-2-Picture-8From stick insects, to spiders, praying mantis and butterflies – I’ve probably only scratched the surface of all the insects West Java has to offer. I would encourage everyone and anyone to get up, get out and explore, wherever you may be. Doing so here has really opened my eyes to the diversity of life you can find just a few footsteps from your house. And who knows, you might just surprise yourself or even inspire another to take an interest in the insects, hey Michael?

Lewis Castle – Research Assistant

click here to see our most recent paper about arthropods living at our field site!

Death by Coffee

Kopi Luwak is a coffee that has been regarded worldwide as the best coffee (a lot) of money can buy.  The coffee cherry is passed through the gut of an animal called a civet.  Civets are found throughout Asia and some parts of Africa and have a very varied wild diet which includes fruit, insects, small mammals and a very small portion of coffee if it is available.CAGED-CIVET_2476

It is very rare that I do anything very ‘touristy’ when travelling; however, I made a ‘tourist-based’ stop on a recent trip to the Island of Bali purely for a personal experience to see what in fact it is that tourists are being told about this insidious industry.

Cat-Poo-ChinoMy husband Michael and I stopped at a KOPI LUWAK (Civet Coffee) ‘information centre’ between Denpasar and Ubud.   As soon as we got out of the car, Michael said “I can smell civets”, he has a nose for these things and when we are in the forest, he often smells an animal before he sees it.   We parked on the opposite side of the road to the centre and the smell was pungent… oddly pungent.  There must be a lot of civets we thought.

Entry to the centre was ‘free’ and a lovely girl took us on the basic tour.  She showed us how the KOPI LUWAK is made from beginning to end (apart from the fact that civets are often taken from the wild, she never mentioned that!)

So, we wandered around the centre which was set on an acre or so of tree-lined paths with our lovely guide and viewed the civets in small, concrete-lined cages.  The cages were clean but bare, with only one branch in each enclosure.  As we walked around, we viewed the interpretive tables that explained the coffee making process, where tourists are encouraged to feel and smell the coffee beans so as they can personally tell the difference between ‘regular’ coffee and ‘civet’ coffee.  Interp-table-(2)We were offered an espresso sized cup of Kopi Luwak for $5.00.   “It tastes so much better than ‘regular’ coffee, why don’t you compare?” our guide invited.  It was blindingly obvious to us that the battered, old, unsealed tin of ‘regular’ coffee offered to us for our comparison, contained a sample of old and stale coffee that must have been there for months.  I dare say, the freshly roasted ‘civet’ coffee may have in fact tasted better than its stale rival in this instance.

So, I am one of these people that like the truth; I am straightforward, so I asked the questions instead of sitting silent to see what industry mantra I would receive.

Here are the ‘so-called’ facts from this particular KOPI  LUWAK centre.

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The photos accompanying this article are of the civets living in ‘fairly good’ conditions, but of course, nowhere near the intended wild environment they should be experiencing.  Usually Kopi Luwak producing, captive civets are in cages where they can barely turn around, or even lay down.  The animals in these production centres are unnaturally obese and have severe health issues as a result.  Even in the ‘tourist approved’ cages at this particular information centre, the civets such as the individual pictured below were blind and overweight.

Good-caged

So, I’m going to do some basic calculations for this particular ‘Kopi Luwak Information Centre’.  I’ll be fair and conservative to start with:Rows-of-coffee

60 civets produce 2kg of coffee a day.

2kgs @ USD$60.00 = USD$120.00 per civet

USD$120.00 x 60 = USD$7200.00 PER DAY

If I am not conservative with my calculations;

60 civets produce 5kg of coffee a day.

5kgs @ USD$60.00 = USD$300.00 per civet

USD$300.00 x 60 = USD$18,000 PER DAY

Sadly, this is only one small civet farm on the island of Bali, which is a small player in the Kopi Luwak market.

The production of Luwak coffee is a CIVET-COFFEEmulti-million dollar industry that won’t be shut down in a hurry.  This is due to the popularity of the product; the result of clever marketing strategies that specifically target ill-informed individuals that never question how their purchased product is in fact produced and the cruelty endured by the enslaved wild animals that have been stolen from the wild.

THINK BEFORE YOU DRINK – Kopi Luwak is Cruelty in a cup

Sharon Williams

LFP Coordinator/Environmental Education Officer

Sri’s Wedding

February started off with a bang as the LFP team attended the wedding of Sri and Dede. Sri is part of our fantastic teaching team (you may have seen her in photos from Nature Club or Forest Protector sessions) so it was an honor to be invited to her big day. Although the first wedding I attended was an incredible affair, this day felt even more special as we knew the bride.

Indonesian weddings start early and when Hanny and I arrived at Sri’s house at 0715 we were already a couple of hours behind the first guests. We caught the end of the preparations though, and saw Sri getting the finishing touches on her make-up and the women putting on their incredible jeweled dresses. Narrowly avoiding getting dragged into the make-up chair ourselves we found a safe hide out entertaining the little kids, which was conveniently located by the snack table. We played a hilarious game of ‘hear-Jessica-failing-to-pronounce-words-correctly!’, which was loved by all. On the rare occasion I did master the Bahasa Indonesian word I’d quickly have the same word shouted at me but in Sundanese or occasionally Korean. I have found Indonesian people nothing if not generous and while all this was going on we were brought box after box of biscuits, cakes and crisps – most were absolutely delicious, and those who know me will believe it when I say I did my utmost to be polite and eat as much as I could.

We headed outside to see the arrival of the groom’s party, which consisted of a long procession of family and friends each carrying gifts. It is tradition in west Java that it is the groom’s family who provides the new couple with the things they’ll need to start off in their own home, so people were carrying everything from glass sets to bedspreads which were inventively sewn into the shapes of various animals.  Soon after this was the ceremony; following prayer time the couple sat at a table facing their fathers and the imam as all the guests gathered around.  Speeches were given, vows were made, books were signed and it was official! The couple then made their way up to the stage to begin the photographs and the guests queued up for the buffet.  Still full from all the cakes I’d been given earlier I tried to sneak away but was spotted by the mother of the Groom and taken straight up to the table and pushed into the queue.  The buffet had a huge selection of food, including my favourite ‘cendol’ (chen-doll), a dessert/drink thing made with condensed milk and brown sugar so I managed to eat a plate or two…

The LFP team was invited up on stage to have photos with the bridal party and we all gave our congratulations to the bride and groom before making room for the next hundred or so guests queuing behind. The band was just setting up and very kindly invited me to sing with them – although sadly I had to refuse.  Luckily they were distracted by a sudden commotion outside and all the children were jumping around, Hanny explained to me that it was a tradition called ‘sawer’ (sow-where) or coin-throwing, and it is a way for the bride’s family to share their happiness around.

It was a lovely day, Sri looked so beautiful and happy and we left with sore faces from too much smiling and sore stomachs from too much good food!

Jess Wise – Student Volunteer

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

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

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

YouTube – does it conserve or kill the slow loris?

riceBy Asier Gil Vasquez

Our perceptions of the world will define our opinions, beliefs and actions. Traditional mass media and new forms of media, like online social media, are one of the strongest external agents in the process of building perceptions. The portrayal of animals and wildlife has provoked different perceptions and consequences. Media tends to modify the image of the animal de-contextualizing it in order to make it a cultural commodity. Altered perceptions of wild animals have generated conservation conflicts such as pet crazes. Primates and many other mammals are generally represented on YouTube, the Internet video-sharing site, as companion animals, increasing the interest of users on purchasing one. This sort of portrayal in the media can aggravate and increase illegal wildlife traffic. Using the case of the slow loris (Nycticebus spp.) we can trace the process of promotion via social media, the de-contextualization of the wild animal and the promotion of negative attitudes such as the pet trade. These nocturnal prosimians became globally known when a first YouTube video of a pet individual became viral, earning millions of visits. Ever since, videos of pet slow lorises have generated a solid imagery of these animals on the internet, based on a portrayal that highlights the pet and cute status. Comments made by users show the attitudes towards the content of these videos, with a high percentage of the audience remarking the “adorableness” or stating that they want to purchase one. These perceptions, globally spread, can have an effect on the conservation of wild populations, generally endangered due to the illegal trade. Equally, these videos have generated debates on the comments section about the domestication, conservation and biology of the slow loris, some of them mentioning conservation campaigns and organizations such as Little Fireface Project. Conservation organizations can use the same tools that made these animals popular in order to turn the tables and propagate new and more accurate portrayals of the animal, as well as conservation messages.