Denise Spaan is the Field Station Coordinator and Conservation Education Manager for The Little Fireface Project which was set up to help protect the slow loris in Indonesia. We caught up with Denise to ask her more about this fascinating species and the important work being done to conserve it.
Can you tell us a bit about The Little Fireface Project? Who are you and what do you do?
The Little Fireface Project (LFP), named after the Sundanese word for loris, is the world’s longest-running loris conservation project, starting in 1993 under the auspices of the Nocturnal Primate Research Group of Oxford Brookes University. Our research was highlighted in the award-winning 2012 film Jungle Gremlins of Java. Little Fireface Project, or Proyek Muka Geni, is working to save the slow loris (locally known as ‘kukang,’ ‘muka geni’ or ‘oches’) through ecology, education and empowerment. We work in West Java, Indonesia, to collect ecological and behavioural data on one of the last remaining populations of Javan slow lorises. Also in West Java, we work with the local community and schools to promote awareness of slow lorises and the importance of conservation. Conservation requires a multi-faceted approach and we are working to do whatever we can to conserve these species!
My name is Denise Spaan and I am the Field Station Coordinator and Conservation Education Manager for LFP’s field site in West Java. I am in charge of the day-to-day management of running a field station (e.g. finances, scheduling, etc.), organising volunteers and establishing education programmes within the schools surrounding the field site and the broader community. Additionally, I am doing research on the behavioural ecology and distribution of the Javan slow loris to help in reintroduction programmes. Moreover, I perform market surveys to assess the availability of slow lorises in animal markets across Java. As field station manager I find it important to be involved in all aspects of our work in West Java to help promote the conservation of the slow loris.
What makes slow lorises special and what are the issues they face?
Slow lorises are a unique group of primates found throughout South and Southeast Asia. They are small, nocturnal primates, and their vice-like grip, snake-like movements, shy nature and, most remarkably, their venomous bite, make them unique amongst the primates. To many people, they are undeniably adorable, whilst to others they are nature’s answer to over 100 diseases. Their slow movements make them easy prey to expert hunters who literally empty the forests of these shy primates, which are amongst the most common mammals seen in Asia’s illegal animal markets, but amongst the rarest spotted even in Asia’s best protected forests.
What is The Little Fireface Project doing to protect slow lorises?
We aim to save lorises from extinction through learning more about their ecology and using this information to educate people, including law enforcement officers. We hope this will lead to empathy and empowerment, whereby people in countries where lorises exist will want to save them for themselves.
We study slow lorises at our field site in West Java. We fit our focal slow lorises with radio collars. A team of trackers and volunteers go out each night to follow them and record their behaviour. At the moment, we are interested in studying infant dispersal and the sleeping site preferences of slow lorises. This information is very important to help with the reintroduction of lorises from rescue centres.
Education is a vital part of our work. Every Saturday we go to the school near our field station to teach environmental education. We focus on teaching the children about lorises and other nocturnal animals in a fun and creative way. For example, we recently made dioramas with the children that featured a slow loris, a common palm civet and an owl in a night-time forest scene. At the end of the session our head tracker Dendi went around with a head torch fitted with a red filter. We use red filters in the forest during our observations and by letting them look into their dioramas through the red light, the children saw the forest as we see it at night. He then told the children how we observe the lorises. We try and connect the knowledge we gain from studying the lorises in the wild to the classroom sessions. Additionally, we have started running a weekly nature club session led by education volunteer Charlotte Young. The aim of the nature club is to educate the children about slow lorises in a creative way by taking them out into the forest. In the last lesson the children were taken to a beautiful stream and asked to draw it on a postcard, thereby seeing a familiar environment through new eyes. We attempt to connect all these activities with teachers in the UK through our Connecting Classrooms scheme via Education Through Expeditions.
Twice yearly, the Little Fireface Project hosts a village festival. In July we hosted the Loris Pride Days. This was a week-long array of events (e.g. parade, football tournament, school visits) which aimed to promote our conservation message within the entire local community and ensure that everyone in our area knows how special lorises are and that they have a stake in the future of this species. Our next event will be a major talent show and fun fair, featuring our special loris mascots as the masters of ceremony!
The lorises around our field station are found in an agroforest or mosaic environment. They are found in and amongst farms and crop fields, and it is therefore really important not only to educate children but also adults. Slow lorises are extremely valuable for farmers as they are highly insectivorous and prey on the insect pests. We therefore visit farms and just through living with these people, we build rapport. We tell the farmers of the importance of lorises to their farms, and we also exchange information about our cultures! We provide many materials we believe will be useful in the day-to-day lives of people, but also hope that such items will build pride for the loris. For example, we hand out lovely loris bandanas, pins and calendars. We have also hosted a movie night featuring our very own movie ‘Don’t Let Me Vanish’, in which lorises are portrayed as forest protectors.
Find out more about The Little Fireface Project.