Jul 29

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!

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Denise Spaan giving a presentation regarding the work done by the Little Fireface Project in Tasikmalaya © Wawan Tarniwan

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.

Javan slow loris Dali gauging on a gum tree © It's A Wildlife

Javan slow loris Dali gauging on a gum tree © It’s A Wildlife

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.

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Denise Spaan and Dendi Rustandi performing behavioural observations on the slow lorises

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.

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Children shining red light into their diorama with the same head torches we use in the field to get a glimpse into what it is like to observe slow lorises at night

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.

May 2014 - LFP - Williams - Merch Day - Great Pic

The Java team went to the local gas station to hand out flyers and calendars to help spread awareness

Find out more about The Little Fireface Project.

Nov 14

Nature, as the great poet Tennyson reminded us, is “red in tooth and claw”. Animals face a constant battle to survive, and many species are under persistent risk from predators. One of the mechanisms animals use to avoid a bloody end is camouflage – blending in with the background – to avoid being eaten.

But what makes for good camouflage? How do factors such as colour and patterning work to fool the senses of wily attackers? At present, although we know a lot about the different types of camouflage that might exist, we know very little about the value of camouflage and how it works in the natural world.

Pygmy seahorse image

Pygmy seahorse camouflaged against fan coral

This short video is a brief introduction to the ongoing work of Dr Martin Stevens at the University of Exeter, and Dr Claire Spottiswoode at the University of Cambridge, who are examining egg predation and camouflage in habitats in South Africa and Zambia. Their colleagues, Dr Jolyon Troscianko and Jared Wilson-Aggarwal, also at Exeter, have set up hidden cameras to record egg predation events in different bird species.

The project aims to increase our understanding of camouflage in the wild and its relationship with survival. To do this, the team study the camouflage of ground nesting birds, and their eggs and chicks in the natural environment. They are using specialist cameras to photograph the birds, and camera traps to identify their main predators and to monitor nest survival.

Wrybill image

Wrybill eggs on nest, showing camouflage

Back in the UK they then use the images to simulate the relevant predator visual systems, which often see the world very differently to us, including different colours. Using a range of image analysis techniques, the team are comparing the properties of the eggs, chicks and adults to the environment to study their camouflage and how it affected their risk of predation.

Avoiding your eggs being eaten is a matter of life and death to many animals, but the research also helps improve our fundamental understanding of vision and could have wide-ranging applications, from bioscience to security and defence. Animal camouflage has also influenced human behaviour and culture, including art, fashion and the military.

A full in-depth feature on the project will appear on the BBSRC website and YouTube channel when the fieldwork is completed in the coming months.

Useful LinksCamouflage banner1_crop

Dr Martin Stevens, Sensory Ecology & Evolution group
http://sensoryecology.com/people/martin-stevens.html

Project nightjar, University of Exeter
http://nightjar.exeter.ac.uk/
African Cuckoos
http://www2.zoo.cam.ac.uk/africancuckoos/home.html

 

Apr 24

This year ARKive and Bristol Festival of Nature are both celebrating their 10th anniversaries! Each are marking the occasion in very special ways: while ARKive is asking the world to vote for their favourite species, the Festival of Nature is setting out to discover Bristol’s wildlife with Bristol99 – an exciting project that aims to connect people in the city with nature on their doorstep through a variety of wildlife events across Bristol’s ninety-nine best sites for nature.

Wherever you live, there are always fascinating species to be found, and with these two celebrations happening at the same time, it seemed like a good idea to talk about the three of ARKive’s shortlisted favourites that you might find right here in the city of Bristol: the red fox, the peregrine falcon, and the barn owl.

Red fox 

Red fox raiding dustbin for scraps

First, the red fox. If you live in the UK, it’s probably the species you’re most likely to have on your tick list, and with Bristol being home to the famous BBC Natural History Unit, it’s become a bit of a film star over time. Foxes began colonising Bristol in the 1930s, when suburbs of semi-detached houses sprung up on the city outskirts, with large gardens that provided an ideal habitat. The population grew rapidly, spreading to the city centre, and foxes can be seen regularly across the city. Keep your eyes peeled after dark!

Peregrine falcon

Urban peregrine falcon ssp. anatum at nest with large brood of four chicks

Peregrine falcons are best known for being the fastest animal in the world, reaching speeds of up to 200mph! In the UK, peregrines have increasingly moved into urban areas in recent years, and Bristol has a number of residents and visitors. Last summer, a pair nested on a ledge of a building by the city’s harbour and were regularly spotted circling the city centre hunting for food for their single chick. The steep cliffs of the Avon Gorge are the best place in Bristol to view these birds, with one viewing spot even named Peregrine Point! Here local enthusiasts gather between April and October, when the peregrines are most active, and observe their day to day activity.

Barn owl

Barn owl photo

Finally, the barn owl. This beautiful bird suffered a decline in numbers throughout the twentieth century which has been attributed to the use of certain agricultural pesticides and an overall loss of habitat. You are more likely to spot a barn owl in the countryside, where it inhabits riverbanks, field edges and roadside verges, but Bristol is blessed with a number of large parks on the outskirts of the city such as Ashton Court and Stoke Park, where if you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of an owl at dusk as they come out to hunt.

Nature on your doorstep

With three of the nominated 50 species in the running for World’s Favourite Species being found on our doorstep here in Bristol, it just goes to show that you don’t need to visit the  most exotic places and habitats to find amazing wildlife. Wherever you live, there are a whole host of exciting species just waiting to be discovered.

If you live in the Bristol area, then join us for Bristol99, as we explore our local green spaces to see what fascinating species we can uncover. It all starts with the Bristol BioBlitz on 3rd and 4th May and finishes with the Festival of Nature on 15th and 16th June, where you can join ARKive and over 150 other organisations for the UK’s largest free celebration of the natural world!

But no matter where you live, get out and enjoy nature. And don’t forget to vote for the species which deserves to be the World’s Favourite Species.

Lucy Gaze, Bristol99 Project Officer

P.S. our vote is for the peregrine

 

Bristol Festival of Nature                                         Bristol 99

 

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