Life in Cipaganti

Well, where do I even begin? I guess I should start off by introducing myself. My name is Lewis and I’m a research assistant here at the little Fireface Project. You’ve probably seen a few other blog posts from Francis? I’m assisting him here with his data collection for his PhD, but definitely isn’t the only thing that keeps me occupied!

On our way to Garut

For anyone who doesn’t yet know, Cipaganti is a town of no more than 3,000 inhabitants located on the side of Mt. Papandayan, an active volcano. We’re cruising here at an altitude of around 1,300m above sea level and call ‘Rumah Hijau’ (Green House) our home. On a clear day, you can see for miles, and on a clear night, the stars blanket the sky – the shooting ones too!

Lewis and Jess

I’ve been here for just over two weeks now, and usually the first thing I notice whenever I visit a new destination are the types of birds I see around me. Anticlimax alert, there are very few! I didn’t see any in Jakarta (the capital), and very few up here in the mountains. The environment here is extremely perturbed, with much of the primary forest cleared for crop fields. Not what I expected, but the remaining fragments are just stunning and teeming with insects (more of that on my next blog).

Cipaganti

The village people are so welcoming and friendly. I get smiled and waved at from almost every house I walk past. To them, a white ‘Bule’ (foreigner) is a novelty. To put this into perspective, I’ve already attended two weddings since arriving – people I’ve never met before in my life. I think Jess and I (another volunteer) could give Branjelina a run for their money with the amount of pictures and interviews we’ve had together. I think the novelty works both ways.

Indonesian Wedding

The people are also very religious and are called to prayer five times a day, two of which are the early hours of the morning when their day begins. For anyone who complains about waking up for their 9-5 job back home in England, try being them and waking up at 04:30 every day. There are many mosques here in Cipaganti, each is lined with megaphones to which their prayers are sung out of. Symphonies of religious songs can be heard rolling down the mountain as each mosque joins in with their own prayer. It can be both beautiful, yet challenging if you’re catching up with sleep post loris shift!

Nature Club!

I’m quite a fussy eater, so moving in to the LFP house was a bit of a risk for me. I’m not a vegetarian, but have learned to live without meat for the time being. The food is delicious, there is so much variety and so many flavours – I’m growing fond of the spicy foods and have convinced Aconk (one of our trackers) to teach me to cook. Sundays are our days off so if ever we feel homesick, we go to Garut which is a 25 minute motorbike ride down the mountainside to Byanbong, and from there, a 45 minute bus ride. We get coffee, use the wifi, there’s an arcade with the most intense dance mat I’ve ever seen, Pizza Hut (yes, I’ve already been) and more market shops than any person could lug back up the mountain.

CipagantiLewis Collecting Data

I’ve learned so much about the culture and the environment here and over such a short space of time too. I’m so glad to be a part of this amazing project and already have so much to write about for next week. Until then, stay tuned folks!

Lewis Castle

Research Assistant

Food Based Conservation

My time at Loris Land is almost over. In April I will move from this magical land and go to a rescue centre for two months to finish my studies. It occurred to me that I haven’t even told you all about my research yet! Well, grab a glass (bottle) of wine and get ready for a juicy insight into a loris crazed researcher’s brain. I apologise in advance if I offend anyone with my thoughts.

This research aims to increase the welfare of lorises in rescue centres like this one!

This research aims to increase the welfare of lorises in rescue centres like this one!

I have been working in animal nutrition for a while now, and in this modern day and age with all of our “ethics” and lab rules … HOW do we know if we are feeding the right diet to an animal. You feed it … it doesn’t die. Does that mean the diet is good? You feed it, it is alive and breeding and performs natural behaviours? Is that satisfactory? What about giving them the nutrients that they need, but in a presentation that is not at all akin to the wild, such as giving only pellets or a porridge. These are all questions which really interest me and I would like to be able to explore. Nutrition impacts every single facet of an animal’s life because they have adapted to exploit a specific group of foods in the wild.

My personal motto is that captive diets should be based on wild diets. It isn’t always possible to reproduce a wild diet in captivity though so we have to make do with what we have. To study this further, I had the idea of looking exactly at what lorises eat in the wild and then calculating their nutrient intake and translating this into a captive diet. I want to look at every.single.nutrient. Lorises are actually a great model animal for this since their captive diets are currently … so so. Plus, with the sheer amount of lorises in rescue centres, creating a good but cheap diet would be amazing for these poor little guys! A special diet for those without teeth would also be a good addition.

Releasing one of our lorises after a health check

Releasing one of our lorises after a health check

SO one issue with these kind of studies is that you can’t necessarily measure the digestive parameters of your wild animals to use as a “golden standard” when you do diet trials. Armed with a bucket of gum the amazing LFP trackers and I have been collecting over months, dried nectar and insects I will be giving some captive lorises a diet which reflects the proportions and quantities of wild lorises. I’ll then be able to measure how much fibre they can digest, how long it takes the diet to pass through them, see how they behave and see how much food they ingest. I hope to be able to do some fancy microbiology and see the state of their gut microbes as well! Now I make a pretty big assumption that these results will be similar to the wild lorises, which is a whole other thing. With all this info, I will then be able to have diet trials which have the necessary nutrients and measure the SAME things again. The diet which most closely resembles the wild type *should* be the ideal captive diet.

The team during the latest health checks

The team during the latest health checks. Little Ena was as calm as could be!

I have lots of ambitions and I really want my studies to help the lorises in any capacity. It would be great if this diet also helps the success of reintroductions but that isn’t for now. I need to finish this study first before I can move on to other things. I can’t believe this adventure is almost over when it feels like I just got my hands into it. I was called Princess on my first day here, and I have remained a princess throughout, yet ever so slightly more rugged now (and beardy).

I look forward to sharing my results with you all!! More from the rescue centre adventures soon :)

Francis Cabana

PhD Student and LFP Research Coordinator

Top 10 tips worth learning!

I’ve been at Little Fireface Project for 14 months now and Nature Club has been by ‘baby’ for the past 10 months.

Coming from a tourism marketing background in Melbourne, Australia and no intense love for children, this was bound to be fun!   I don’t play with children; I go out for dinner and enjoy champagne.  I LOVE nature and wildlife, I hike and photograph with my husband, but never really hang out with kids.  I’ve decided though that children are like cats … the more you keep away, the more they insist on sitting right on you whilst you try to work (the cats, not the kids).  Now I look back though, I realise that children always sought me out at parties, weddings and family gatherings; and honestly I think it was because I was the most ridiculous ‘grown-up’ in the crowd and I genuinely enjoyed myself.   I absolutely believe this is a very useful skill, so try harnessing that energy sometimes if you can… genuinely.  It will be good for your soul too!

Tip# 1: Genuinely enjoy what you do … and the rest will follow.

So I figured, I’m creative, how hard could working with children be?  I just need to make learning fun and get involved like I do at parties.  Surely if they were having fun they would HAVE to learn and I, in turn, would enjoy it too right?   Yes! That’s exactly what happened surprisingly enough, Phew!

RidiculousTip# 2: Learning should be fun, not just for the children.

Restructuring Nature Club has been has been my favourite role at Little Fireface Project and I have enjoyed seeing the progress of the children during their monthly themed sessions and seeing the numbers continue to balloon.

Tip# 3: Ensure what you are doing is working.  I do pre-post questionnaires for each month to gauge if my lessons are working.

Children join Nature Club every Friday for two hours of hands on and fun learning with a different theme each month.   I cover all styles of learning but, without doubt the kinesthetic learning style is the favourite here in West Java!  These children have a genuine creative flare and when given tasks they produce the most immaculate pieces of art with very little prompting.

So the last time I blogged we had just completed mammals, amphibian, insect and endangered species themes.   We had a visit to the zoo and had heated debates about why animals are endangered.  That was great and it made me realise that some of these children have a great passion for wildlife, even though, in general they are brought up to see wild animals in an indifferent light.

Tip# 4: Don’t assume that every child thinks the same (or learns the same)

Since then, we have learned all about our solar system and the night skies and that clouds are NOT planets.   We played sensory games to show how nocturnal animals have adapted to live in darkness and we made ‘space playdough’ and made our own planetary system.  It was messy and I looked like I had been to a street festival for many weeks later, with glitter in places I don’t dare mention.

Tip# 5:  Keep things interesting and mix it up … go outside, make puzzles, posters and puppets.  This is done on minimal budget here and we recycle EVERYTHING.

Our current Nature Club theme is ‘oceans’ and strangely, the children seem to have an excellent knowledge of the oceans compared to what they knew about forests when we first began.  The ocean is about two and half hour drive from us and the forest is at the doorstep … literally, so this was a surprise for me.     One 10 year old girl, Hismi, was up in arms over the killing of all of the sharks and fish.  She said “killing sharks and fishing too much is really bad for the ocean’s health and we will all be sorry one day”.  I came out of that class with the biggest of grins on my face.

Tip# 6: NEVER assume the children know less than you!

Next month I am sure will be everyone’s favourite theme when we learn about primates.  There are some great primate activities planned and I cannot wait to be climbing, swinging, leaping and playing in the forest near where we live for the CHIMP-OLYMPICS (remember, I’m the ridiculous adult and will be the first to climb a tree like an orangutan).    I’m also in the process of making a ‘Primate Quest – Q & A game’ which will be available for all organisations to use in their education programs.

Tip# 7: Think outside of the square.  Try things.  Sometimes they work sometimes they don’t!

Did you know that Little Fireface Project, Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and Columbus Zoo funded the building of the new Nature Clubs rooms which officially opened this year?  Since then, our classes have grown and grown.   What started as a class of 10 is now 45 eager and ready to learn children.  Forty-five LOUD and energy-filled children learning about nature and wildlife (did I mention loud?).  The children have even decided that they want to start a tree planting club and want to plant trees at least once a month.    Now that’s a win!

Tip# 8: Reward effort … small stickers or cards go a long way.  We have attendance awards every two months.

Once more, I am so proud of my personal achievements here and particularly with Nature Club.  I only have three months left on the ground here, and then we are off to Europe via Central and South America, hopefully to do more environmental education with organisations along the way.  Now there is something I NEVER thought I’d say.

Tip# 9: Take a leap of faith, whether it be in environmental education or life!

I do believe a solid foundation has been set for future environmental education endeavours here and I just know Little Fireface Project will continue with the wonderful work they have been doing.

Tip#10: Get out and do it!.. It just might change your life and someone else’s too.

 

Sharon Williams – Project Coordinator/Environmental Education Manager

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

BURSTING WITH PRIDE

 Twice a year in our small village in West Java, Little Fireface Project hosts Slow Loris Pride Days. Pride Days is weekend of fun, games and community gathering at the end of January and again in July. We host these days to celebrate the Javan slow loris and to say a huge thank you to the people who live here and who help protect the wildlife near their home. You see, the area surrounding our village is mainly agroforest, so working together to secure habitat and protect the species is of great importance. Although the people here knew about the slow loris before Little Fireface Project arrived, there were many myths surrounding the loris and people were scared of the cryptic creature. Today it is a different story, with the community really caring for the loris and looking at it as almost a mascot for their area, that they can be proud of protecting. A Critically Endangered primate at their doorstep and they plan to look after it!
 So in celebration of the slow loris, pride days started a few years ago and are always one of the village main events. The event this January was HUGE and served as a double celebration; Pride Days and the opening of our new school. Little Fireface Project in conjunction with Columbus Zoo and Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund completed the building two new school rooms and our Nature Club rooms. This means that all children can now attend school, no matter what their socio-economic situation is. All of the primary school children in our area can have an education.
With over 400 people attending Slow Loris Pride Days this year, there was something for everyone. MASTERCHEF Cipaganti saw ladies cooking off for some great prizes, and the huge oily and slippery bamboo poles saw men and kids trying to climb up to the top to get prizes. I was exhausted just watching them. One child never gave up and got to the top … after an hour of continuous trying!
There were sack races, marble and spoon races and ‘bobbing for coins in the flour’ games. OH WHAT FUN!
 We enjoyed a band and some wonderful dance groups showed us their moves, as well as group dancing for everyone. It was a blast.
After lots of planning and anticipation, we also started our tree planting initiative. Phase One of ‘ ‘corridors for slow loris and wildlife’ began. Over 250 trees were planted along the river by over 70 enthusiastic children. This is not only good news for wildlife, this is also good news for the farmers, as the tree planting assists with river bank stabilisation and soil integrity. Phases 2 is ready to go and phases 3-5 are well in the planning stage. Our ever keen Nature Club kids want to start a ‘forest guardian’ club so they can help with future plantings. The children actually jumped up and down and clapped when they were asked about the idea. I think they liked it!
After slow loris pride days, I sat back, had a coffee and reflected on a small community that had come together to celebrate one of the world’s 25 most endangered primates, the Javan slow loris. I thank everyone here and I love how children and adults alike help the Little Fireface Project in any way they can.
This will be my last Slow Loris Pride Days. I leave in June and I can honestly say that the community spirit here will stick with me for a lifetime!

Sharon Williams – Little Fireface Project Coordinator / Environmental Education Manager

LITTLE FIREFACES – BIG CHALLENGES

As I boarded my plane in Orlando, Florida, to begin the long 30+ hour day of travel to Indonesia, I realized I was stepping largely into the unknown. Sure I knew some basic facts, but that’s about all I had: I am going to a place called Cipiganti, there are Javan slow lorises there, and somehow I will help save them.

Getting from Jakarta to the field site exposed me to the insanity that is Indonesian traffic, but what really struck me was the very last leg of the journey. The rocky road that branches off from the main street to take you up to Cipiganti is treacherous to say the least. The last 25 minutes of my travels were filled with bumping, jostling, and bouncing up this rock pile and I began to think to myself, “What did I just get myself into?”

Well it turned out I had gotten myself involved with a great organization filled with even greater people. Within 24 hours of arriving at the field site I was on my way to see the lorises and assist with data collection. After using radio telemetry to find the loris’s general location, we used our headlamps to scan the trees looking for our focal animal. Scanning, scanning, scanning….woah! As my head torch illuminated two bright red eyes beaming back toward us, it became immediately apparent why lorises are called “firefaces.” It is one thing to see a picture of a loris, and quite another to observe one personally. They are so weird and strange in the absolute best way. I know that I won’t forget that first night out in the field as we watched Azka, our focal loris for the night, move gracefully through the treetops foraging for insects.

My time with LFP was limited to only three weeks unfortunately, as I needed to return to school to finish my final undergraduate semester (which is where I am now, writing this instead of doing schoolwork). However during that time I was able to take part in many different aspects of LFP’s work and learned an immense amount. Assisting with the education programs was a blast, and the kids were fantastic. I think I provided them with as much entertainment as they provided me, especially with my horrible attempts at speaking to them in Indonesian. One of the most exciting projects I had the opportunity to assist with was setting camera traps. To reach the camera trap site you have to make the arduous hike up into the primary forest. The primary forest is amazing, and a glimpse into the past. As I stopped to take in all the green, all the sounds, all the life, I couldn’t help but imagine how different this island must have been before the impacts brought about by humans changed it forever. After finally setting up all the cameras, it was time for an Indonesian-style picnic. We washed our hands in a cool pool at the base of a small waterfall before we sat down to enjoy our meal. The food was set out on banana leaves resulting in a delicious buffet of rice, tempeh, bala-bala, chombro, and I don’t even know what else; all I knew was that it tasted amazing.

Despite all the fun I had assisting in LFP’s research programs, it was clear that many challenges still face not just the slow loris, but all of Indonesia’s wildlife and remaining natural environment. Wildlife trafficking, deforestation, corruption, and cultural attitudes are just some of the many obstacles that must be overcome for conservation to truly work in Indonesia. While this list may seem daunting, organizations like LFP are working hard on the front lines to give Indonesia’s wildlife a fighting chance for survival. Conservation is like the road up to Cipiganti: always uphill, full of unexpected bumps, and sometimes it may seem like you won’t make it to the top. But with hard work and perseverance, you will reach your goal, whether that’s making it back to your house at the top of the hill after a long day or saving a Critically Endangered primate. Big challenges face the little firefaces of Java, but NGOs like the Little Fireface Project are giving them a fighting chance, and I’m proud to have contributed in a small way with the conservation of the Javan slow loris.

Taylor Tench – Student Volunteer

 

Civets, lorises and leopard cats, oh my!

Life in the LFP field station is what you make it. It’s possible to skate through your time here in West Java missing out on the wealth of opportunities outside the door. And with the focus of the project obviously being slow lorises – a nocturnal animal – shift times coincide with the most active period of forest life and if you want to see the other inhabitants of this Javan agro-forest really all you have to do is look. Uncollared_2014_Michael Williams (5)This abundance of wildlife is a major plus point for rainy season and the increased chance of seeing some of Java’s fauna definitely helps get me out the door and into the agro-forest when the weather is miserable and it’s raining! As if the chance to observe and study the wild behaviour of one of the “World’s Top 25 Most Endangered Primates” and the world’s only known venomous primate needs to be talked up, but if your study animal has been out of sight for 45 minutes or you’ve been stranded in a little farmers hut for hours due to the weather it really does help to have interesting surroundings.

If you set out on first shift, leaving the project house in daylight most of the larger forest inhabitants have yet to wake up although as you climb up the hill the journey often coincides with the start of the cicadas evening chorus and at dusk a multitude of buzzing insects fly in loops around your head – many of them having a nibble. The lorises we follow vary in distance from the field station from about a half-hour walk to nearly an hour to get up to the higher territories of Charlie, Toyib and Azka. Now I’ve been here for a couple of months I’m getting the hang of where to look for what along the different routes; I know where the civet family lives, what loris territories I’m most likely to see a leopard cat in, what to look for to notice the long tail of a dragon camouflaged in the Kaliandra trees alongside the paths and which farmers ponds, hidden amongst the undergrowth, provide a home to which frog species.

Once you’ve located your focal loris for the evening’s observation and you’ve settled in to take your GPS point and observation it’s rewarding to see the wildlife return as you quieten down. The ground comes alive as you watch it with innumerable grasshoppers and crickets, crazy looking shimmery beetles, stick insects on the lower branches and praying mantis and katydids among the leaves. During behavioural observations we take GPS points at 15 minutes intervals and record behaviour ad libitum throughout the night. One of the most important things to consider during a shift is the effect of the observers on the target loris, as we don’t want to influence their behaviour; for the welfare of the animal and in turn to ensure you’re collecting valid data! It’s always important to keep quiet and once the animal has moved off we wait at least 15 minutes before following so the loris doesn’t feel like its being chased. Being still and silent for prolonged periods of time mean that you get a good look at a variety of animals. This week alone I’ve had some awesome encounters; while huddled in a tea field watching adult male loris Azka gouging gum in jeingjen trees a Javan ferret badger trundled up foraging not 5 m from Pak Adin and I, his little white tipped tail bobbing along and later that same evening while sat in an unused and overgrown field a banded linsang walked calmly towards us, stopping about 2 m away to catch and chew a large insect before wandering off and watching us from a safer vantage point. It’s not only the lorises that are more active during a second shift. I’ve found I’m much more likely to see civets in particular while out on the later observation. I’ve had occasions of common palm civets crossing directly over my head while using the water pipes to cross fields into the next clump of trees or them walking straight past me while they travel noisily through bamboo trunks.

While its refreshing to see how adaptable so many of these species are to life in their anthropologically altered habit, it also make me think of how diverse the area must have been before humans came in and cleared the area for crops. After all we are here because of a need to research a primate species, which is listed as Critically Endangered with its major threats being habitat loss and human persecution. Habitat protection is such a simple idea to suggest but one of the hardest to enforce. As I observe the wildlife, moving from crop field to crop field during my shifts I just hope that it isn’t too late for these remaining species.

Jess Wise – Student Volunteer

The Kids Who Never Cry!

Always up for anything - local kids are not afraid to get involved, even if it means getting dirtyI’ve been volunteering with the Little Fireface Project here in West Java for just over a year now and something has become extremely clear to me. I am surrounded by genuinely happy, sharing and unselfish children. Honestly, if you hear a child crying in the street, you know something has happened; they have fallen out of a tree or tripped over the stoney, uneven ground. Mothers (all mothers) run from their homes to see who is hurt. They find a child who is not crying because they didn’t get their own way or because they were asked to help with chores, they have hurt themselves.
Each day, for hours sometimes, I wander the village and stop and chat to all of the children, usually with hand gestures and my limited Bahasa Indonesian language skills. We understand each other. What I have learnt is that the children here are truly happy and content with what they have. I have discovered them playing games that my mum told me about playing when she was young.
Always huge smiles to greet you when exploring the villageThe boys and girls here mix together and do not squabble over who has the best shoes or hairstyle. They play marbles, skip rope, fly kites, climb trees, play soccer, fish in their yard ponds and spend hours making mud, grass and leaf pies (YUM YUM!) and they play in the rivers when it is hot; splashing and laughing and taking dives in turn, no pushing, no shoving.
The children are given freedom here, they don’t worry about being kidnapped or run over by vehicles … the motorbikes give way to them. They are happy and they are allowed to be. They are encouraged to be children; to play in the rain and to get muddy feet. In fact, one of the first days in West Java I sat and watched in awe as the children were covered from head to toe in mud, whilst helping catch small fish for relocation in a drained pond. This included girls in their hijab (muslim clothing for girls). The parents have the attitude that the clothes can be cleaned and don’t think it is too much effort to do so. More often than not, the parents join in.
Little Fireface Project has a drawing/drama club at our field station every Tuesday and coloured pencils and paper REALLY are the biggest hit with the kids! They always come and colour and are very excited when they can take their fabulous artwork pieces home. These items, which are small things to our western world children, are a huge deal here. Not an ‘XBOX’ in sight in our village, I am pleased to say.
Local kids play in the dirtSo, controversially perhaps, it is wonderful to see children be children and not be pampered so much that they grow up with a spoilt attitude. These village kids are independent, have loads of common sense and appreciate their life. They are also wonderfully sociable and don’t sit in the corner sulking if they are told NO! These kids just get on with it; they get on with life with a happy demeanour! They don’t have squillions of dollars, but they have lots of love, family time and a way of looking at what are everyday ‘things’ to us, in a new and appreciative way. It helps me do the same and I LOVE IT and appreciate them just as much. I feel I’ve won the lotto.

Sharon Williams – Field Station Coordinator/Environmental Education Officer

Half a World Away

DENISE

Denise and her Indonesian family – Dendi, Adin, Aconk and Yiyi

Five months ago I made the big step to travel half way across the world (literally!) to follow a dream. I packed my bags and left the Little Fireface Project, Indonesia and the lorises and went to Mexico to study spider monkeys. Spider monkeys were the first primates I ever had the privilege to study in the wild and when a PhD position in conservation came up I could not let the opportunity pass by. Like slow lorises, all species of spider monkeys are threatened with extinction.

At first I was worried that the difference between the two places would be humungous. But in reality once you get over a monster jetlag, there turned out to be more similarities than differences and it quickly felt like home. Instead of rice with tofu, here we eat tortillas (little corn flour flatbreads) with beans. And instead of hearing the mosque’s call to prayer at 4am, here we hear dogs barking and latin pop music blasting from car speakers. In Mexico, the weather is hot, hot and hotter and the sun shows its face every day.

I am based in the Yucatan Peninsula of Southern Mexico, famous for its beaches (Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum) and burgeoning tourism industry. It is also home to a wonderful conservation organization that I am very happy to be working with called ConMonoMaya(www.facebook.com/ConMonoMaya).  Like the Little Fireface Project, ConMonoMaya works hard to raise awareness for conservation issues related to the two primates living in the Peninsula: Geoffroy’s spider monkey and the black howler monkey. It is interesting going from studying primates at night to studying those in the day. I used to have my field backpack filled with three sweaters that I would pull out one by one as the night got colder and a thermos full of sweet, hot coffee. Now my backpack is full of insect repellent and water. Despite the heat, we wear long sleeves in the forest in an attempt to ward off little insects called chiggers. They are leave bites that itch for weeks. Our only defence from these little buggers is a laundry soap called Princessa, but even that does not always work.

DENISE-2DENISE-3It is especially in conservation issues that I see how similar Java and the Yucatan really are. In Punta Laguna, a long-term spider monkey research site, the monkeys are very well habituated and easy to see. This still means a lot of neck ache as they live so high in the trees! But the monkeys are not shy. When I first arrived, I was very surprised to see the monkeys using trees to cross over the road and very close to electricity cables. My first thought was of Tahini, a loris that in my time in Java sadly passed away as she had dispersed into the village as was electrocuted by power cables. I felt an instant fear for the spider monkeys. They were crossing the road to get to a fruit tree on the other side. Thankfully, infants, mothers and adults all seemed to avoid the electric cables every time.

Like slow lorises, one of the biggest threats facing spider monkeys in Mexico is the primate pet trade. It is illegal to keep spider monkeys as pets. In Indonesia primates including lorises are traded openly on big illegal wildlife markets, but here infant monkeys are often seen in front of restaurants or along the road. Infants are caught from the wild and at the very least their mother is shot. These little monkeys serve as tourist attractions with no message accompanying the horrors they went through to get there. ConMonoMaya is actively trying to help these monkeys. They give environmental education to schools in the area and are actively working with wildlife services in Mexico. Another similarity is in the children’s faces. I was afraid that I would not see smiles again like those of the children in Cipaganti. The children have the most pure of laughs, so I was very happy when I discovered that those smiles can be found anywhere. The Mayan children of the village light up in exactly the same way when you talk and laugh with them. I feel very lucky to have been part of Little Fireface Project and now ConMonoMaya.

Denise Spaan

LFP’s Infant Dispersal Study

With the recent onset of the wet season I’ve noticed a few changes in our lorises behaviour’. They seem to groom more, which is understandable after the torrential downpours! I’ve also seen a lot of exciting baby activity, they just seem to be popping up all over the place. Consequently I am looking into infant behaviour and dispersal in Javan Slow Lorises. To start off I’ve been making family trees, social webs and interaction charts finding out whose who and can now see what a tight knit Loris Community we have here in West Java. Despite the large number of lorises we follow and the regular un-collared lorises we find throughout most territories, all of our animals are linked in some way, which is great fun to study.

Baby Alomah during his first collaring

Baby Alomah during his first collaring

We have everything from mothers and fathers, sons and daughters to new boyfriends and girlfriends amongst our focal animals and due to the long study period we can follow them throughout different life stages. We are watching the progress of newborns through their dispersal and have a front row seat as they eventually find territories and mates of their own. For example one of our slow lorises, Lucu, is the daughter of Charlie, a loris with one of the highest elevated territories we have. Lucu has now dispersed and traveled all the way down right next to the village and is now settling in with boyfriend Pak B. We have other individuals we’ve followed from birth such as Dali who is still a sub-adult and as he grows up we are already able to see him interacting with his mum’s newest baby and it’ll be exciting to track his dispersing journey. Alomah (son of One Eye) seems to be in the process of dispersing and is often found waking up with Azka or One-Eye. Maya and Fernando, young lorises themselves, have recently been seen foraging together and Fernando was seen with a very small, and very fluffy, baby so we’ll be keeping a close eye on this new family!

Babu Lucu when dispersing from mother Charlie.

Babu Lucu when dispersing from mother Charlie.

Despite having long been considered as solitary it appears that these mysterious primates have quite the social life and as this project progresses I’m hoping to be able to find out about it in more detail – what age they weaned, what age do they begin to disperse, how far do they disperse, what are the barriers – if any, do they disperse with a new mate or meet a new one there? So many questions, so little time!

Jess Wise

Student Volunteer