Greetings from the Whoop Troop in Viet Nam!

Since leaving Cipaganti, the puppets and I have settled in at the beautiful Dao Tien Endangered Primate Species Centre in southern Viet Nam.  Run by the Endangered Asian Species Trust (EAST), Dao Tien focusses on the rescue, rehabilitation, and where possible, the release of endangered primates native to south Viet Nam.

P1010584

I wake every morning at 5.15 to the wonderful whoops of golden cheeked gibbons duetting.  Much better than an alarm clock!  The gibbons at Dao Tien are all victims of illegal hunting and trade.  Most were taken from their families at an early age and kept in appalling conditions, so it takes years to nurture them back to physical and psychological health and give them a chance to return to the forest.  Some are too damaged by human contact to survive in the wild and will live out their lives at Dao Tien.  Take a look at EAST’s website www.go-east.org to see some of the gorgeous primates in our care at the moment.

So how do the puppets and I fit in?  By day we’re working with students in Thanh Binh High School as part of my Whoop Troop project, connecting with students in LFP’s Alum Nature Club and Situwangi School to learn about native animal species common to Viet Nam and Java.  The Thanh Binh Troop are creating a fantastic puppet show which they will perform in six villages around Cat Tien National Park.  Education and awareness raising are an important part of EAST’s work to help stop the illegal trade in endangered primates.  We run two daily tours of the Centre and have many Vietnamese and foreign visitors coming to see what we do and learn about primate conservation.

By night, it’s the turn of the pygmy slow lorises to emerge.  The huge increase in the illegal trade in lorises for pets, tourist props and medicine mean that we’re completely full of rescued pygmy lorises, with a new enclosure planned this year to keep up with the flood of new arrivals.  If you think Javan lorises are amazing, click here to take a look at the pygmy slow loris on the Endangered Asian Species Trust’s Facebook page! At only 400g, the tiny pygmy loris is the smallest loris species, but they still pack the venomous bite of their larger cousins.

Last week LFP’s Dan Geerah visited Dao Tien bringing the equipment to detect ultrasonic animal calls.  After some expert training from Dan, I’ve gone nocturnal to find out if the pygmy slow lorises of Viet Nam use ultrasonic calls to communicate.  We’ve recently released some pygmy lorises so it’s a great opportunity for me to find out if they use these secret calls.  Understanding more about pygmy loris communication can help with rehabilitation and release programmes and in monitoring wild loris populations.  My favourite night shift is midnight to 5 a.m., which starts with tranquil hours in the forest and ends with the slow gathering of dawn and the sounds of waking birds and insects.  When I hear the whoops of Dao Tien’s gibbons and their wild neighbours in Cat Tien National Park, I know it’s time to head home for bed.

Torpor Tuesday: Extreme Creatures

For those of you who do not know me already, I’m Katie—one of Professor Anna Nekaris’  DPhil students. Unable to stay away long, I’m back for a second stint (after my MSc research) to the Little Fireface Project field site here in Cipaganti, West Java. I started working with LFP in 2013, while studying Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes University. When I discussed my research interests in climate change and conservation with Professor Nekaris, it took little effort for us to realise the field site here in Java was an ideal location for the study, and that the Javan slow loris was in dire need of this research.

- Sharing the adventures of Safari Mickey with our neighbours

– Sharing the adventures of Safari Mickey with some of our students

The main focus of my DPhil is looking at energetics of the Javan slow loris in the contexts of climate change and evolution. In terms of energetics, I am mainly interested in torpor use. Torpor is a physiological process of slowing down metabolism, and is often used to cope with extreme conditions such as limited food resources and extreme climates. It’s a relatively dangerous state to enter, from an energetics perspective. If you thought lorises were extreme for being the only venomous primate, that is only the start of their fascinating adaptations.

Here in Cipaganti, the lorises are coping with little-to-no forest with low temperatures. Their home range is located at about 1,350—1,650 meters above sea level, is next to a volcano and overlaps with an agroforest and village. The agroforest habitat is a mosaic of crops with interspersed bamboo patches and strips of trees that have been planted by farmers, so you can image how difficult it must be for these non-jumping primates!

To measure energetics, I am using a mixture of methods. I am doing full-night loris observations from the time they wake up until they go to sleep (5pm until 5 am) where I focus on their activity, inactivity and feeding/foraging behaviours. I am also attaching extremely light-weight temperature loggers to their collars. This is a non-invasive method that gives measurements of their skin temperature, and can later be used as an indicator for body temperature. To understand the habitat structure and floral development (as lorises eat a lot of nectar and gum) I also do vegetation and floral development monitoring every other week in each loris’ home range. I have also set up climate station loggers in trees (with help from our amazing pro tree-climbing trackers) to measure temperatures in each area.

The temperature in Java can drop to freezing in the forest at night!

– The temperature in in the forest can drop to freezing at night!

So, why is this relevant for climate change research and conservation? With the rate of agricultural expansion, many animals are being pushed to higher altitudes and montane regions in order to find remaining forest area or a suitable home range. By observing the slow loris and its coping mechanisms in this extreme environment, I hope to produce a testable model to predict behavioural responses to future climate change that will be relevant for the conservation of slow lorises and other species in similar dilemmas.

  • Katie Reinhardt, PhD Researcher

Press Release: Bringing awareness towards Japan’s role in cruel and illegal trade in threatened slow lorises

Oxford, United Kingdom

Slow lorises are cute but venomous nocturnal primates found from India to the Philippines; the nine currently recognised species are all threatened with extinction largely due to illegal trade. This week, researchers from Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, United Kingdom and the Japan Wildlife Conservation Society, Tokyo, Japan, have published two major studies documenting Japan’s role in the illegal pet trade of slow lorises, and also provide a strong scientific basis that the typical way in which these pets are kept violates international standards of animal welfare, constituting animal cruelty. The studies will appear online in the wake of a new major documentary regarding slow loris ecology and conservation to be aired on Japan’s NHK this month.

Slow lorises as pets first came to the general public’s attention in 2009 when a video of a slow loris being tickled went viral. More than 100 videos of pet slow lorises are now available on social networking sites at any one time. Arguably the most popular slow loris individual is Kinako, a Hiller’s slow loris from Sumatra. The ‘Slow Loris Channel’ featuring this animal gained popularity in September 2012 when the video ‘slow loris eating a riceball’ went viral. As of 21st January 2016, the channel had 44,547 subscribers and 18,454,348 views. All slow lorises are protected by national laws in their range countries, making catching and selling them illegal, and all slow lorises are listed on Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). So where do the slow lorises in these videos come from? And are these videos really showing cute animals enjoying their lives as pets? The research reveals that the answer to these questions presents a real threat to slow loris conservation.

The first of the two studies, entitled Crossing international borders: the trade of slow lorises Nycticebus spp. as pets in Japan was published in Asian Primates Journal, a journal of the IUCN Primates Specialist Group. During the two month investigation, the authors found 114 slow lorises in 93 Japanese online videos, and discovered 74 slow lorises for sale in 20 Japanese pet shops, both in store and on-line. Six threatened species, including the Critically Endangered Javan slow loris, were for sale for between USD 3,290 and USD 8,650, some of which were displayed with falsified CITES permits. Analysis of CITES trade data revealed Japan to be the most significant importer of slow lorises; a total of 633 individuals were imported for commercial purposes between 1985 and 2013 with the last of these imports in 1999. In terms of the magnitude of illegal trade, confiscation data from Japan’s Ministry of Finance (Customs) revealed that 400 slow lorises were confiscated entering Japan between 2000 and 2013. Current penalties imposed on wildlife smugglers in Japan are low in comparison to the lucrative market, and the country’s national legislation and CITES regulation needs to be better enforced. As breeding of slow lorises in captivity is extremely difficult, it is highly probable that most animals arriving in private homes are wild born.

Kirie Suzuki, Secretary General of the Japan Wildlife Conservation Society, and co-author of the study stated that “The international community is working in cooperation to curtail illegal trade of wildlife; Japan should fulfil its responsibilities”

The second study entitled Is tickling torture? Assessing welfare towards slow lorises (Nycticebus spp.) within Web 2.0 videos appears open access in the international journal Folia Primatologica. Nekaris and colleagues examined 100 online videos, nearly 1/3 of which were uploaded from Japan, to investigate whether or not the ‘five freedoms’ of animal welfare were violated in the videos. These freedoms are used by animal welfare societies worldwide to assess if animals are kept in appropriate captive conditions and include freedom: 1) from hunger, thirst, and malnutrition, 2) from disease and injury, 3) from physical forms of discomfort due to inadequate thermal, resting or other environmental conditions 4) from fear, distress, and negative psychological states, and 5) to carry out normal behaviours. The authors showed that every video violated at least one freedom, with all five negative conditions being present in nearly 1/3rd of the analysed videos. This included the famous ‘riceball’ video, where the slow loris was fed a poor diet, showed signs of ill health indicated by obesity, was kept in bright light, showed signs of stress, and was kept in extremely unnatural conditions. Furthermore, the public was more likely to give ‘thumbs up’ to videos that showed stressed lorises kept in bright light. The pervasiveness of this imagery may cause an unknowing public to perceive that such conditions are natural for these animals, as evidenced by the many positive comments about the cuteness of the video, as well as the refusal of online social networking sites to remove the videos despite them being flagged as animal cruelty.

Professor Anna Nekaris, Director of the Little Fireface Project and Professor of Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes University, stated that “These videos are a double-edged sword, bringing awareness of the plight of the slow loris to potentially millions of viewers, but at the same time, fuelling an illegal international pet trade.” The challenges of the work were pointed out by Louisa Musing of TRAFFIC International and a co-author of both studies who stated “The demand for pet slow lorises in Japan is persistent and is playing a major part in fuelling their international illegal trade. Wildlife smugglers are taking advantage of the weak law enforcement that is currently in place as well as the lucrative market where individual slow lorises are being sold for thousands of USD.”

The problem of slow loris trade is not restricted to Japan alone, and the studies published this week are only an example of the tremendous and pervasive trade in these rare primates. Dr Mary Blair, a loris researcher at the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History who was not involved in the research, said “This important work illustrates for the first time the extensive role that Japanese consumers play in driving the illicit international trade in endangered slow lorises as exotic pets. Unfortunately, this problem is pervasive in many other countries outside of the native loris range and documenting the problem with rigorous data – as these researchers have done in the case of Japan – is quite challenging.”

Jungle Gremlins of Java BBC 2, 29 Nov

Jungle Gremlins email banner repeat

 

 

On 29 November, BBC2 will air the award winning Jungle Gremlins of Java. This compelling documentary follows the research of Oxford Brookes University’s Professor Anna Nekaris, director of the Little Fireface Project, as she seeks to understand the behaviour of the elusive slow loris and to conserve them in the wild.

If you would like to help the slow loris after viewing this film, there is so much you can do!

  • Donate to the Slow Loris Fund at Oxford Brookes University & help our conservation & research efforts
  • Volunteer for the Little Fireface Project
  • Read our advice to help to remove illegal slow loris videos from the Internet
  • Zoos & rescue centres can download our nutrition guide to improve their loris’ diets
  • Visit our Etsy shop or Adopt a Slow Loris for Christmas and help our conservation efforts
  • Write to your ambassador in loris range countries and let him or her know your feelings about illegal trade & its impact on your travel & consumer choices

 

 

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.

 

Slow loris venom can kill humans

Field biologist and conservationist George Madani describes his near-death experience with a slow loris. This account is soon to be published as a medical case study written by Madani and Nekaris in the Journal of Venomous Animals Including Tropical Diseases. Without medical intervention, George almost certainly would have died…

As a field biologist working in Australia I’ve had my fair share of perilous creatures to contend with. Deadly snakes with venom potent enough to kill a man several times over. Bone crunching, limb tearing crocodiles lurking in billabongs and rivers of the north . Even our toilets aren’t safe with the infamous Redback spider lurking in their favourite haunt of the noble outback dunny.

So when I visited Borneo a couple of years ago I thought the greatest danger I might face would have perhaps been with one of their legendary vipers or cobras. Maybe I would end up as lunch from an elusive neck seizing clouded leopard or perhaps being trampled by a herd of startled stampeding jungle elephants. Little did I think that I would be undone by a small, cute and furry little mammal.

Having been afflicted with a desire to catch and admire most critters from a young age I met my match in Borneo by what I thought to be the most unlikely of candidates. It was with considerable excitement that I came across my first wild slow loris, which inadvertently led to too close an encounter and ultimately the teeth of this nocturnal primate sunk deeply into my finger.

Loris Bite by George Madani

George after a young Nycticebus kayan deeply bit into his finger

Following a painful and frightening adventure into anaphylaxis I had a crash course into understanding that these cute little forest gremlins pack quite the punch being one of the worlds very few venomous mammals. The photos speak for themselves and if I can’t serve as a good example then I can certainly serve as warning! Leave the loris alone!

 

Read more about slow loris venom here

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!

saliva-collection-bears
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

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!

‘Cute’ slow loris victim of own internet stardom


ExtinctionDuetoArrogance

Decline in rare primate linked to viral videos

(paper at above link)

 

The results of new research published today in scientific journal Plos One show that unwitting watchers of YouTube videos are indirectly responsible for the demise of one of the world’s rarest primates, the slow loris (Nycitcebus spp.). The illegal trade in wild slow lorises, fuelled by their demand as pets in Asia and elsewhere, appears to be influenced by people watching clips of the primates on popular video-sharing site YouTube.

 

A team of researchers from Oxford Brookes University, with additional funding from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, measured the public’s perceptions of the rare slow loris by analysing over 12,000 comments posted over a three-year period in response to a single video on YouTube featuring one of the primates as a pet. One in ten viewers who left a comment wrote that they wanted a ‘cute’ slow loris as a pet, suggesting a direct link between the illegal trade in slow lorises and their presence on YouTube videos.  Furthermore, over 100 individual slow lorises were recorded in videos on YouTube, more than are currently found across accredited zoos.

 

Professor Anna Nekaris, lead author of the paper and an international expert on slow lorises says:  “Videos of wild animals such as slow lorises that portray them as cute and cuddly pets in a home-setting can serve to reinforce people’s likelihood to want to acquire one.  Without further context to the video, it may not be obvious to the general public that these primates are in fact protected species and that in all likelihood they have been caught in the wild and traded illegally.”

 

Slow lorises are a group of eight species of nocturnal primate found throughout South and Southeast Asia; all species are protected in each of the 13 range countries where they occur.  They are unique amongst primates in that they have a toxic bite.  For this reason, traders clip the teeth of captured slow lorises with wire cutters, nail clippers or pliers before they are sold illegally in markets.  Sadly, these animals often die in transit from infection or stress even before reaching the market.

 

“The number of slow lorises making an appearance on the internet is increasing – a reflection of the rampant illegal international trade,” adds Nekaris.  “Without a shadow of a doubt, the slow lorises we see in most videos on YouTube are derived directly from the wild and not the result of captive breeding facilities.  The reproductive success of captive slow lorises in accredited breeding facilities such as zoo is extremely low, making it unlikely that any captive lorises have been bred commercially.  Illegal wildlife trade is committed on a massive scale worth billions, rivalling drug and arms trafficking.  Yet there is currently no recourse on unregulated social media sites such as YouTube to flag up wildlife crime.”

 

The study also analysed the effect of celebrity endorsement on people’s desire to acquire a slow loris as a pet.  Celebrity endorsement is a well-known technique used by marketers to influence consumer behaviour and the way products are perceived.  In this case, celebrities who suggested their followers watch slow loris videos on YouTube because they found the creatures ‘cute’ or ‘irresistible’, led to thousands of additional people watching them.

 

In addition to the illegal trade for pets, other major threats to slow lorises include the rise in the number of slow lorises used as ‘photo props’ in popular tourist destinations in Thailand, hunting for their body parts which are used in traditional medicine practices in Asia, and habitat loss.

 

Ends

 

 

Notes for Editors

  • People’s Trust for Endangered Species has been helping to ensure a future for many endangered species throughout the world since 1977.  Visit www.ptes.org for more information
  • Anna Nekaris founded the Little Fireface Project in 1993 under the auspices of the Nocturnal Primate Research Group of OxfordBrookesUniversity.  Visit http://www.nocturama.org/ for more information
  • Since 2007, all species of slow lorises have been included on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), precluding all international trade.
  • Fifteen thousand individual slow lorises have been recorded at illegal animal markets in Indonesia alone.  This toll excludes animals that have died in transit from their wild habitat to the markets.