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.

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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