Jungle Gremlins of….Francis!

by Francis Cabana, PhD Student and Research Coordinator, Little Fireface Project

I was working in a zoo with pygmy slow lorises when I saw the documentary Jungle Gremlins of Java for the first time. I knew about the biology of slow lorises but didn’t really know how bad their situation really was. I was moved and made it a point to always tell people the heavy implications involved with sharing the tickling slow loris video.

Now, two years after the film first aired, and that I am making slow loris conservation and welfare my PhD thesis subject, I exaggeratedly think it is one of the most important problems in the world. I am not so sure if I would be in the same position had this documentary not been made.

Thanks to this documentary, which has educated hundreds of thousands of people about the plight of the slow loris, the Little Fireface Project has picked up many supporters. Thanks to these enthusiasts, LFP is able to conduct important research, conservation and education activities in Southeast Asia. I am based in Java and study wild javan slow lorises to understand exactly what and how much they eat and why. I will collect samples of every food item that they consume and analyse their nutrition content to then create a nutrient intake which hopefully I can transform into nutrient recommendations for captive lorises. Not only will these recommendations impact zoos but more importantly rescue and rehabilitation centres. LFP supports my decision to take things one step further and create the ideal diet for captive lorises. For western zoos and Asian centres, they must be appropriate, healthy and affordable. Current diets at rescue centres are mostly fruit. If they are lucky enough to receive lorises that still have all of their teeth, then the high fruit diet will slowly create dental issues requiring some teeth to be removed. Can’t blame them though, centres have no funding and no access to the scientific literature. It is a good thing I have a big mouth then, isn’t it? I am very passionate about my research and working with organisations to promote conservation and animal welfare, all of these values are clearly reflected in the Jungle Gremlins of Java.

Hopefully thanks to LFP and my research, we will print out posters and little manuals and send them to all of the centres we can find that detail how to make healthy diets.

With LFP’s research, I will also be able to come up with a list of most important plants for lorises. The children in our nature club will grow these selected plants from seeds and give the saplings to farmers to plant around their plots. This will increase useable habitat and hopefully bridge currently used areas. The saplings will be grown in our newly built Nature Club House and sapling nursery! One thing I miss the most from home is gardening, so I’m definitely excited!

Maybe I owe this entire experience to the BBC documentary that inspired me and slowly led me to the dark path of nocturnal research and rescue centre welfare. One thing is for sure, if Paignton Zoo’s Matt Webb didn’t say “Can you look at our loris diets? It needs a lot of work” to me, I wouldn’t have gotten here as quickly as I did. Maybe he saw the documentary too?

If you would like to help LFP and I with our research through donations, we are in desperate need of the following – adopting one of our lorises for Christmas will help in their purchase!=

  • AAA and AA batteries
  • Gum Arabic (can be purchased from Amazon)
  • Whatman Number 1 filter paper wicks
  • microcapillary tubes

Love and Lorises,

Francis Cabana

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.