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.
How did you get into science / conservation and what do you love most about the work you do? What are the challenges you face?
From a young age I have lived in many countries, including primate range countries such as Ivory Coast and Rwanda. It is there that I developed an interest in animals but was also faced with the reality of poverty. I saw conservation issues up close. At school I was very interested in biology and went on to study zoology as my undergraduate degree. When presented with the option of doing a placement year I jumped at the opportunity to study chimpanzees at a rescue centre in the Netherlands. Whilst there, I was introduced to the welfare issues associated with primate pets and gained an interest in wildlife trade. My final year module of Conservation Biology affirmed what I had seen when I was younger and made me want to become a conservationist. I went on to do a Masters degree at Oxford Brookes University in Primate Conservation. It is there that I developed the skills needed to become a conservationist and primate researcher. It was also there that I was introduced to the plight of the slow loris.
What I love about the work I do is the versatility that it offers. I am involved in all aspects of the work that the Little Fireface Project does in Java. Seeing the children’s faces light up when we tell them what we have planned for them that day is extremely rewarding. What I love most is seeing them learn and seeing how, every week, they remember more about the slow loris. My nights in the forest with the lorises fill me with admiration and wonder. Learning about a species is one thing, but then seeing them in the wild is very special.
Challenges come in many forms. Some are small, such as the drinking water tank needing to be refilled (we manage to spill water every time), and others are larger challenges. Recently we found a civet trap on one of the paths used by the lorises. Lorises are very vulnerable to such traps and will get caught in them, and of course we are here to instil love for all the wild animals, meaning the civets too. At moments like that it is important to act fast, deactivate the trap, and think up an appropriate education programme. Within one week we had a volunteer draw some civet colouring pages and we went to talk to the farmers.
Why do you think Arkive is important?
Arkive is a wonderful reference tool for professionals, students, and everyday people with an interest in the world. The information is presented in such a way that is more accessible to a broader audience. Scientists often struggle to present their data to the public so that it can be easily understood. Arkive is a wonderful reference that presents solid scientific facts, beautiful photos, videos, and references. This is a wonderful way to unite scientists and animal-lovers across the globe.
What can people do to help slow lorises?
Slow lorises are often made victims of their own cuteness. Because of their big eyes and soft fur, many people think that they would make a good pet. Many tourists are not aware of the critical state in which lorises exist. Therefore, one of the most important things anyone can do is not to buy a loris in an animal market. By buying a loris you endorse the trade and as most are wild-caught, you thereby endorse taking animals from the wild. Additionally, many lorises are used in the photo prop trade. Please don’t have your photo taken with a loris when on holiday in places like Thailand, or buy it thinking you can simply hand it over to a rescue centre – there is always a new one ready to take its place on the streets.
Be a responsible consumer. Products that contain palm oil are some of the biggest contributors to loss of habitat, and therefore loss of species in Southeast Asia. Many people know that this industry has a negative effect on orangutans, but numerous other species, including slow lorises, macaques, langurs, civets and leopards, suffer from this loss of habitat as well. Try and buy products with sustainable palm oil or without palm oil.
People can also support organisations like the Little Fireface Project that work to save lorises. By visiting www.nocturama.org you can see exactly what our project is doing to protect these species. We have an adoption programme for some of our study animals as well as a shop with project t-shirts and other items. Of course, donations are always appreciated. These contributions make a vital difference to what we are able to do in the field to protect these species.
Denise Spaan in West Java, Indonesia