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.”

The Return of the Research Coordinator

 

So, for those of you who don’t remember me, I am Rob, the Research Coordinator here at LFP. If you follow any of our social media platforms, you may have noticed that I haven’t been featured much in recent months. The reason is that I had an unfortunate motorcycle accident back in October and broke both my arms! All you animal lovers will be happy to know that I had this motorcycle accident because I lost control of the bike while avoiding a direct collision with a chicken AND a cat.

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Still participating in village life!

Unfortunately, my recovery has not been as fast as I was hoping so I will be leaving Indonesia a little earlier than expected later this month. Despite my injuries, I just couldn’t bring myself to leave our lorises behind so soon. I still felt like I had a little more to give before I left for home. So, with the rest of the LFP team acting as my arms, I have been working on getting some projects up off the ground.

I have been working with one of our long-term volunteers and village favourite, Dan, to get our loris vocalisation study going. I have been working with our ever-useful, hard-working volunteer, Ina, who has been leading the charge on developing presence surveys (to find out where the lorises are living outside of our field site) and creating a system for mapping the agroforest landscape that characterises our field site. Myself, Ina, and our Public Relations and Outreach Officer, Faye, have been working hard to get our new conservation education curriculum together. The girls put in all the hard work while I offered guidance on content. Much to the dismay of the LFP team, you don’t need your arms to talk. My increased levels of talking combined with my almost complete inability to do any physical activity and help out around the field station has become a common theme. I probably owe the team a few favours at this point.

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Giving an educational session on compost as part of the education programme

Apart from this, I have been doing my absolute best to get our new agroforestry project started. The agroforestry project feels like my baby and, honestly, it is the main reason why I decided to put off returning home for this long. Our wonderful Indonesian staff (Adin, Aconk, Dendi, and Yiyi) and our newest volunteer Marion have been fantastic in helping me to make this a reality. There will be much more news on this over the coming year. I am very exciting and thankful that this project is finally taking shape and it has made working with my injuries worthwhile (or at least a little less ridiculous).

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Working on the tree nursery, a vital aspect of the agroforestry project

I will continue to act as an adviser on the agroforestry project even after I return home and help in any way that I can. So, although I am leaving LFP, I will never be too far away.

  • Robert O’Hagan, Research Coordinator

It’s a vet life

The Little Fireface Project team consists of people from all over the world with different cultural and academic backgrounds. Eager to do my part to save the elusive yet captivating Javan slow loris, I joined Little Fireface Project three weeks ago as a research assistant, bringing my own twist to the team. I always had an interest to help mammals in their natural habitat and after becoming a licensed veterinary technician (LVT) in America, LFP had given me the opportunity to do so! I have worked in America as a LVT for the past 3 years and am glad to bring a medical aspect to this team.

One LVT tip I shared is implementing the technique of using the distance of the anogenital space in order to tell the sex of a loris. Females will have shorter anogenital distance than males. Sometimes it is difficult to sex a loris but using this measurement can help determine the sex of a loris more easily.

There are two potential ways to non-invasively test stress levels in a slow loris. One is by looking at the state of the brachial gland. When a loris is stressed, they secrete a venomous excretion from the brachial gland as a defense mechanism, which they would later combine with their saliva. Another way to test stress is to examine cortisol levels. Studies have shown cortisol levels are directly correlated to how stressed an individual is. By collecting and examining faecal samples, you can later test cortisol levels in a lab. PhD student Katie Reinhardt and I will be visiting Cikananga Rescue Center this week to test and compare the cortisol levels of captive and wild lorises.  Then we will research to see if cortisol levels are directly related to brachial secretion. If this is the case, then rescue centers, zoos and wild researchers could easily identify a lorises stress levels in the most non-invasive level—by simply looking at their brachial glands.

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Julia giving medical care to the housecat, Steven.

I am also able to provide basic medical treatment for one of the team’s four legged members. The team has a house cat, Steven, who wins the hearts of all who meet her. Originally brought in to hunt unwelcomed mice in the field house, the feline does more than just keeping mice at bay. Steven brings joy to everyone just with her loving presence and makes the field house a more welcoming and fun place to stay. Unfortunately, after being spayed Steven had post-surgical complications and needed medical attention. Luckily LFP has connections with Dr. Dian, a veterinarian who works at Pusat Konservasi Elang Kamojang, an eagle conservation about 45 minutes away by motor bike. Stevie received medical attention essential to her wellbeing and is currently being treated with daily antibiotics. It will be a long road to a full recovery and I am glad to be here to lend a helping hand along the way.

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In better times, distracting us from work!

  • Julia Koncelik, LFP volunteer

Selamat datang!

Arriving to the village of Cipaganti to start work on The Little Fireface Project I found myself far away from the hustle and bustle of the capital and instead surrounded by welcoming faces, both in the LFP house and in the village! I was lucky enough to arrive just 2 days before Loris Pride Day; an annual event set up by LFP to celebrate the project and thank the community for allowing us to be a part of their village. The event included parades, games, music, puppet shows, and dancing; a fantastic introduction to the project and the villages involvement with us!

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One of my first days was at the annual Pride Day.

As the week went on I was introduced to the Kepala Desa (village chief), took data on a nature club session, and learnt more about my job as Field Station Coordinator. The Little Fireface Project is involved in so many areas of conservation; from research, to outreach, social media, education, to agroforestry. The interests and passion of the team keeps this expanding and the range of staff and volunteers employed here reflects this. My background is in primate and domestic animal rescue centres, and conservation project management; which will hopefully continue to compliment the team and help towards the conservation of the slow loris!

  • Laura Beasley, Field Station Coordinator

In the Limelight

Over the last couple of decades, wildlife documentaries have become a popular television genre. Young biologists everywhere idolise David Attenborough, Steve Backshall, and Chris Packham. But the reality of wildlife doc is often a lot messier than people expect. Film crews normally work with actors; people who can be asked to repeat sentences and movements, scripts that can be followed, and lines that can be rehearsed. When they arrive in fieldsites like ours to film animals, things can get tricky. Animals follow no script, won’t repeat anything, and in the case of the loris, the challenges are endless. They are nocturnal, cryptic, small, fast, venomous… So when we get crews over, it is always with a sense of apprehension on whether they’ll adjust.

As was the case with Tim and Phil. Friends of the project, we invited them to come over and help us shoot a promotional video for LFP. Although they had some experience working with animals, nothing would compare to lorises. So when I picked them up in Jakarta, I hoped they’d be able to make the switch.

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Phil films Aconk using the telemetry equipment.

I needn’t have worried. Tim is a shining ball of happiness and optimism, and as far as he concerned nothing is impossible. Even when he crashed his precious drone into a flagpost (and the crowd inhaled as one), he still had a smile on his face. Phil, his partner in crime, is a loveable, funny guy who found his way into the hearts of the local children by always letting them see what he shot and putting up with their relentless questioning.

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Rob, Tim, and Katie make friends with local girls.

As for the lorises, they were luckier than most! On their first night, they managed to get beautiful shots of One-Eye’s lovely new baby. Also Maya and her brand-new little one (who still clings to her) were caught on tape. During the days, the team would come and film us at work, interview our staff, and witness the festivities at Pride Day. It was a pleasure to have them with us for the week, and we are looking forward to seeing how our project will look on screen! So from all of us at the project, we’d like to say a big thank you to Tim & Phil.

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Intern Ina is being interviewed for our upcoming short documentary.

Keep an eye on our Facebook, Instagram, and website for sneak-previews and the final product in the coming weeks!

  • Faye Vogely, Public Relations & Outreach Officer

The truth about the illegal trade

Researching wildlife trade isn’t for everyone. It requires going to markets and seeing  wild animals being kept in cramped, unsuitable, sometimes abysmal conditions that severely shorten their life expectancy. There is no way to sugarcoat it, these wildlife markets are horrible places. And with the empathy any animal-lover undoubtedly feels towards animals in this situation comes a sense of immense frustration.  Seeing Critically Endangered Javan slow lorises in a cage on their way to becoming a pet and not being able to take immediate action is a hard pill to swallow for any conservationist. But the government turns a blind eye to tens of thousands of illegally traded birds, and hundreds of illegally traded mammals and reptiles on a daily basis – the odds are stacked against us.

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A young civet is being offered for sale in the Bandung markets.

And turning a blind eye may not be the worst of the governments failings with regards to wildlife trade. Last week president Joko Widodo of Indonesia made a statement about protecting Indonesian wildlife by buying 190 birds from a market in Jakarta and releasing them into Bogor National Park. This may have been well-intentioned but he did everything wrong. Everything!

  • There are now dozens of pictures of the president of Indonesia smiling and walking around a market where 98% of the animals are being illegally traded, giving the perception that this is an acceptable practice.
  • The animals were paid for instead of confiscated. While empathy may induce us to “rescue” animals from markets by buying them, this only makes things worse by giving further money and incentive to people who capture these animals illegally and unsustainably from the wild.
  • The animals were released into an area which already has many birds, knowing nothing about their origin, what diseases they may be carrying or how well-suited they are to the wild. The very nature of buying an animal in a market means these things are a mystery. .

And this is just one example, Jakarta has three of the largest wildlife markets in the world and animals are traded illegally all over the world. So why research it? Why try to do anything about it if the odds seem insurmountable? For me the answer is simple, wildlife markets are just unacceptable. Species are and will continue to go extinct because of these markets. And no one has ever succeeded in changing anything without trying. Unsustainable wildlife trade is something that can be influenced, we have had success stories. With targeted education, many people will move away from illegally- and unsustainably- sourced animals and with enforcement things can really begin to turn around.

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A bleached macaque baby sits in a cage in the Pramuka market in Jakarta.

Trade for pets is one of the most pressing factors driving the Javan slow loris towards extinction so if the spotlight does one day turn on these markets, it is absolutely vital that we have robust and comprehensive data to guide enforcement and conservation efforts. So we will continue to collect data, we will continue to petition the government for change, we will continue to make our findings known to the wider scientific community, we will continue to spread the word as widely as possible, and eventually, we will curb the unsustainable wild pet trade.

  • Daniel Bergin, Field Station Coordinator

A second chance for Indonesian’s wildlife

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Ina and the Cikananga staff

Indonesia is a country full of exotic wildlife. Some are so fluffy, cute and adorable that people all over the world keep them as pets. Yet, their new parents have to realize that animals such as monkeys and leopards soon grow out of their adorable baby body and become the wild housemates we know from television. Here, rescue and rehabilitation centres like the Cikananga Rescue Centre become crucially important. With over 14 hectares, Indonesia’s largest, active rescue centre aims to “become an internationally accredited wild animal rescue centre”. This includes providing “care and rehabilitation for rescued Indonesian wildlife” as well as “repatriate Indonesian animals from abroad”. Projects within the centre include breeding programs with the Javan warty pig and the Black-winged starling. Both species whose numbers have declined considerably in the past are now threatened by extinction. The breeding programs are supported by the Zoologische Gesellschaft für Arten- und Populationsschutz (ZGAP). Other projects include the Macaque rehabilitation project, animal rescue project (for reintroduction and permanent sanctuary) and project SERO (Supportive Environments for the Region’s Otter). On top of that, Cikananga rescue centre is partnered with local Universities providing student training and education programs for schools. The centre also acts as a host for workshops (e.g. CITES and LFP). Animals come to the centre brought by their previous owners, as confiscated victims of illegal wildlife trade or by the police. Sometimes motherless or injured individuals are brought to the centre. Current guests here include Macaques, Orang-Utans, Black Javan Leopards, Sun bears, Estuarine Crocodiles, Buffy Fish Owl, Crested Serpent-Eagle and Slow Lorises.

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A baby gibbon being rehabilitated at the Cikananga Wildlife Centre.

Set in the middle of forest, Cikananga rescue centre is found about an hour drive from Sukabumi, accessible with motorbike or car. The centre is run by Indonesian animal keepers and volunteers from all over the world. Volunteers live at the centre and are provided with food and laundry service. Working hours are two shifts a day for a total of 6-7 hours a day for six days a week. There is always a good atmosphere amongst volunteers and the evenings are used for card game tournaments and other fun activities. Volunteers clean animal enclosures, prepare animal food and make sure that all animals are happy and in good condition. This is ensured by preparing fun toys for the animals and regular check-ups by the centre’s veterinarian. LFP is collaborating with Cikananga rescue centre by exchanging knowledge about Slow Loris keeping. Sometimes LFP volunteers also spend time at Cikananga rescue centre and vice versa. This ensures an ongoing exchange of knowledge and support for both projects. Herewith we are able to enhance the conditions for captive Slow Loris and our beloved wild friends can benefit all over the world.

  • Ina-Kathrinn Spey, LFP volunteer

‘Tis the season

IMG_1687For many of you reading this blog, Christmas will be a time of family, togetherness, and food and presents. I’m sure that for all of the team here, it is no different. But unlike other years, we weren’t at home with our families. Instead, we were here in Rumah Hijau on the side of a volcano in Indonesia. And that doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate Christmas!

The preparations started weeks ago – visitors from England were asked to bring things like stuffing and fairy lights, Christmas photos were taken to send as postcards to family and friends. Whenever we went into the city, we’d scour it for Christmas-related goodies. As the weeks passed, we soon found our house filled with a Christmas tree, handmade decorations, and even Santa hats. The atmosphere was settling in.

Christmas Eve we spent with our Indonesian team of trackers. An international dinner graced the table, with Dutch “stamppot”, Indonesian rice with kecap manis, American broccoli bites, and German red cabbage. We all tucked in and had a brilliant evening. ‘I loved the Christmas karaoke,’ says intern Ina. We sang Santa Baby like our lives depended on it and even the trackers joined in for Jingle Bells!

Christmas Day started with Harry Potter. The first film was well on its way by 10am, and the girls dove into the kitchen for a second Christmas meal. We exchanged presents and Steven the cat happily snoozed on the blankets. Secret Santas were revealed as Harry was still trying to defeat evil in the background. ‘It was great. I really enjoyed the special effort that everybody made to make it feel like home,’ says coordinator Rob.

And although it is never easy spending Christmas away from family, the house did feel like a second home. Considering that we’re a bunch of biologists thrown together at random, we all make a pretty good adopted family. So I’d like to say a warm thank you to my colleagues, and a merry Christmas and happy new year to you! Keep an eye on the website to see what the new year brings us and the lorises here in Java.

  • Faye Vogely, PR & Outreach Coordinator

Meet the Parents: Watching our babies grow up!

Since we started the Little Fireface Project field study of wild Javan slow loris in Cipaganti, West Java, we have been very lucky to witness the birth of several babies per year. This is very rewarding for us since baby lorises are the easiest for hunters to catch, and are all too often seen in Java’s illegal wildlife markets. Thus seeing our babies grow up and move to new forest homes is even more exciting, especially when their behaviour is more exciting than an episode of your favourite soap opera.

Our latest loris to leave home and establish his new home range is One Eye’s son Alomah. Alomah got his name from LFP sponsor Augsburg Zoo, which means in Sunda ‘how do you do?’ Born in 2013, Alomah grew up in the home range of mama One Eye, competitive neighbour to another long-observed female Tereh. Slow lorises can ‘pair’ for at least four years, and probably longer. When we first observed Tereh, she was with a male loris Guntur, who mysteriously disappeared. Tereh thus appeared to be a single lady, although she occasionally flirted with One Eye’s long-time husband Azka, which already put her in One Eye’s black book. It was thus scandalous when young Alomah moved just next door to start a romance with older lady Tereh. These two have been bamboo cuddling for the last year and have just had their own first baby! Seeing the lineages of our lorises grow is so exciting and it will be interesting to see just how similar the new baby is to its mother and to sometimes rival sometimes grandma One Eye.

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Tereh’s baby having a little wander in the bamboo!

Family ties may be strong, but first love can be a challenge to the tightest of bonds. Recently, volunteer Dan saw this first-hand, when Tereh and Alomah met Azka and One Eye at their home range boundary. Alomah is a sweet loris, and it seemed he just wanted his new wife to meet the parents. Azka and One Eye clearly did not approve of this Mrs Robinson relationship, and a spat broke out that could have even become venomous! Fortunately, silence reigned, and these two pairs are now keeping their distance. As if to solidify his bond with his new lady, Alomah has nightly been seen bringing her flowers (that is sipping the nectar of calliandra flowers with her – loris’ favourite food!), giving her long baths (via social grooming where lorises lick each other like lazy cats), and of course taking up his share of taking care of the new baby!!

Although this story is cute and exciting, the happiest ending of all is to see these lorises wild and free, with new generations finding their way in Cipaganti’s agroforest. This unlikely habitat, where farmers and lorises live side-by-side, depends on local people caring for the lorises and not allowing them to be hunted. Seeing three generations of lorises in just a few hectares lets us see that is exactly what is happening!

  • Anna Nekaris, LFP Director

Monitoring fun with nature!

Environmental education is becoming an increasingly important subject in wildlife conservation. Without including the next generation into solving recent environmental issues and providing them with knowledge and skills on how to combat these problems, there is little chance to change our attitudes and behaviour towards saving our natural environment and therefore our resources. At LFP environmental education is an important part of loris’ conservation. Every Friday local kids from surrounding villages come to participate in ‘Nature Club’. Here, we use a playful approach to introduce young children (age 5-12) to complex topics like climate change, pollution and deforestation. We follow a three months curriculum and each lesson is carefully planned and combines small interactive lectures and games. In the past we have also visited multiple schools to give short lectures on lorises’ ecology and our conservation efforts. This ‘Forest Protector’ curriculum was our first evaluation system for environmental education. A school visit was repeated after six months and we tested how much the students remembered from our first visit using pictures and essays as an indicator. We are now in the process of establishing an education relationship with Situwangi Boarding School in Cikajang. The students here (age 13-18) are eager to learn English which gives us the great opportunity to teach our curriculum in English as well without relying on a translator.

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The LFP staff with the Cikajang children.

To improve the education outcome and our teaching methods we are currently working on implementing a thorough monitoring and evaluation plan. The aim is to monthly monitor how different teaching techniques are adopted. The plan is to conduct an evaluation of the kid’s knowledge and attitudes towards the thematised topics after each curriculum. This way we hope to be able to tell which method contributes most to long term memory. With a coherently structured monitoring and evaluation system we also anticipate to be able to not only improve our environmental education system in place but also add to existing schemes for other organisations to use.