Jungle Gremlins of Java BBC 2, 29 Nov

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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.

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As part of my postdoctoral research with the Little Fireface Project, I am exploring some of the hypotheses for why slow lorises produce such toxic compounds. Is it to ward off ectoparasites, tiny bugs that live in their fur and potentially could transmit diseases to them? Is it to deter predators of the night, including owls, hawks, and eagles? Could the venom serve multiple purposes?

In order to answer these questions, myself and LFP volunteer Anna Zango have been conducting two separate phases of research. First, we have been conducting a series of experiments testing the responses of various insects to the venom of slow lorises, using a combination of saliva and brachial gland secretions. Second, we have been playing the sounds of predators to the lorises as they forage at night, to see if they have any interesting behaviors that might be related to using their venom. We have to carefully study their reactions, and some of the lorises actually move quite fast! Good thing Anna has such sharp eyes!

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This project has been incredibly interesting. I never imagined to see such specific responses. So far, the data suggest that slow lorises are a lot more complicated, unique, and special than many people realize. So, I am really excited to continue this research exploring how slow lorises use venom as an adaptation.

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.

Loris Fact 6: You can’t chew with somebody else’s teeth

Well that’s a Yiddish proverb, but the loris would agree, and most lorises really love their teeth. Being strepsirrhine primates, lorises have really neat teeth! I think the Albuquerque zoo keeper Howard Kaplan explains it best in his song about the slow loris:

Lower front teeth pointing forward

Form a sharp comb in their arc

They clean the fur where encrusted

And scrape the resin from bark!

The behaviour: You can see in this video how a slow loris uses its toothcomb to groom the beautiful soft fur of its companion – this is called allogrooming and guess what? All this solitary stuff is nonsense! Slow lorises are super social and the toothcomb is essential for grooming and maintaining social bonds!

The anatomy: The toothcomb in the slow loris is made up of four incisors and two canines (the teeth that normally look like fangs). So those two fang-like teeth you can see sticking out in the photos are actually premolars. this means that when traders cut out the lorises’ teeth, they are normally removing 8 teeth. This leaves the loris with only 2 premolars and 3 molars to eat with in the lower jaw.

Conservation implications: This is pretty terrible because the slow loris is specially adapted to eat exudates – gums and saps; in fact this can make up most of their diet, and without their toothcomb they cannot be reintroduced to the wild and can even starve to death in captivity. Also, the shattered roots of these broken teeth most often lead to infection and death in affected animals. Finally, it is very hard to reproduce the exudate diet in zoos. This is why many lorises (who eat too many fruits in zoos) get diabetes, dental cavities, become obese and die. Only with extremely specialised care do lorises without teeth even have a glimmer of hope to lead a happy life. Certainly most people keeping them as pets have no chance.

The Science:

Streicher U, Collins R, Navarro-Montes A, Nekaris KAI.  (2012).Exudates and animal prey characterize slow loris (Nycticebus pygmaeus, N. coucang and N. javanicus) diet in captivity and after release into the wild. In (Masters J, Genin F, Crompton R): Leaping Ahead: Advances in Prosimian Biology, Springer: New York.

Nekaris KAI, Starr C, Collins RL, Navarro-Montes, A. (2010) Comparative ecology of exudate feeding by Asian slow lorises (Nycticebus). In (Burrows A &Nash L, eds) The Evolution of Exudativory in Primates. Springer: New York. Pp: 155-168.

Swapna N, Radhakrishna S, Gupta AK, Kumar A. (2010) Exudativory in the Bengal slow loris (Nycticebus bengalensis) in Trishna Wildlife Sanctuary, Tripura, northeast India. Am J Primatol. 72(2):113-21.


The problem with ‘Slow loris eating rice’

In the last week, a new viral slow loris video has penetrated the internet. An undeniably adorable, wide-eyed slow loris eating a ball of sticky rice, sometimes one grain at a time. Oh my gosh – it is soooo cute!! Or is it?

Well, yes! Slow lorises are beautiful to the eyes of many cultures. They are elegant creatures whose grasping hands are adapted to hold tightly to branches, and snatch important insect prey. Those huge eyes allow them to move in the forest during the darkest nights.

The cruelty of loris pets just begins to unfold. The loris is in a brightly lit room that really hurts its eyes. It goes into super slow mode. Wild lorises can ZOOM 8 km a night on the horizontal (e.g. not counting all the runs they make up and down vines, lianes, trunks and branches). When they are terrified they sit and look wide-eyed in the horrified manner of that cutey in the video. That is why so many of the commentators pick up on his fear and write, “but why does he look so scared?”

Lorises have a fabulously specialised diet, which is why we hardly ever see them in zoos, and why so many die even under specialised care. They eat insects full of secondary compounds, flower nectar, and tree gum. Rice will make them very very ill indeed! A favourite quote of mine about the loris is…’In captivity they will eat fruit, but so will a lion eat rice, or a hungry man his boots, but not with much gusto.”

The video features the Vulnerable CITES Appendix I-listed greater slow loris, Nycticebus coucang, found only in a limited range in Malaysia, Sumatra, Southern Thailand and Singapore. This group probably comprises at least three species or subspecies, meaning their conservation threat will even be greater. This also is one of the rarest types of of lorises found in zoos, meaning the animal in the video is almost without doubt from illegal trade. Even in countries where it is legal to have primate pets, the animal must have come from a legal import, and the parents must also have been legal; otherwise it is ILLEGAL to keep the animal. Even if the animal is bred at a pet shop, the parents must have been legally imported!!  It is almost certain that this little loris is therefore illegal, and YouTube is violating laws by showing illegal activity – the possession of an illegal CITES I listed animal as a pet.

Please don’t ‘like’ or ‘thumbs up’ this video and encourage this cruel trade. The suffering of animals for the trade is many not including:

1. being ripped from the forest, shoved in bags and plastic crates with no food and water

2. babies dying on the mother’s belly in this process

3. pregnant mothers miscarrying

4. most have their teeth cut out to avoid the venomous bite and most die due to secondary infection

5.most cannot stand the terrible market conditions and die before being sold

6. the rest nearly die during illegal transit

7. those that make it as a pet die due to poor diet and ill kept conditions, and live just 1-2 years rather than the 20 years they would live in the wild

LEAVE LORIS IN THE FOREST

The Unusual Suspects!

Radio tracking in Cipaganti has begun in the beautiful  mountains of Garut! Follow @Jolorijo’s blog for all the news, but meet the lorises here…the first two families…

Row 1: One Eye’s family: Mama One Eye, Mr Azka and Baby Hesketh!

Row 2: Ena’s family – Baby Yogi, Mr Guntur and Mama Ena!