Cuteness overload and habitat loss converge to threaten the Javan slow loris

Introducing Marie Sigaud, BES-TEG Blog Editor

This month, Marie Sigaud joins the BES-TEG special interest group committee as the new blog editor.  Marie conducted her PhD research on free ranging-bison in Canada over the last past 5 years and is currently working in Java, Indonesia as a research coordinator for a project on the ecology of the Javan slow loris, led by Prof KAI Nekaris at Oxford Brookes University. She has also worked in other tropical areas including Mayotte and Reunion islands in the Indian Ocean.

We warmly welcome Marie to the team and we hope you enjoy her inaugural blog post, dedicated to the Javan slow loris and her current research project.

Cuteness overload and habitat loss converge to threaten the Javan slow loris

By Marie Sigaud, Oxford Brookes

The Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus) is one of the most critically endangered primates. Endemic to the island of Java in Indonesia, this nocturnal and arboreal species is found in primary forests, but also in secondary disturbed forests and agroforests.

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Adult Javan slow loris equipped with a radio collared

Unexpected consequences of cuteness

Unlike orang-utans, you won’t see pictures of this small primate as flagships in the fight against biodiversity loss. What you might see are videos and pictures of slow lorises in cages at people’s houses, the same way that you will see cute videos of cats or dogs displaying silly behaviours. The difference lies in the fact that slow lorises are no pets. They don’t belong in people’s apartments and they rarely survive in captivity for more than a few months. But the public is still reluctant to see that and many slow lorises are taken from the wild, fuelling the illegal wildlife pet trade. It is most likely that if you visit one of the multiple “bird markets” in Indonesia you will see slow lorises in poor condition sitting in cages in bright light, next to “Harry Potter birds” – or owls. Unfortunately, pet trade is not the only reason why slow lorises are illegally traded. They are also used in traditional medicine and as photo props for tourists.

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Adult Javan slow loris rescued from the illegal wildlife trade

Dramatic habitat loss

While they are being taken from the wild, their habitat is disappearing as well. Java is one of the most populated islands in the world with a population density of 1,121 /km2 and a human population that keeps increasing.  Javan forests are being converted to agricultural land and other human dominated habitats at an unprecedented rate. But still, slow lorises manage to persist in degraded landscapes, especially agricultural fields, trying to make a living between carrot fields and bamboo patches. No conflict with farmers is reported for this species as they don’t consume crops, they infrequently travel on the ground and they rarely consume fruits. This makes the Javan slow loris a perfect candidate for coexistence in disturbed landscape such as agroforests. What they need are flowers to lick, insects to eat and gum to gouge. They also need to be able to sleep safely in dense bamboo patches during the day and to have access to well-connected trees during the night as they don’t travel on the ground.

What about coexistence?

Raising awareness about this species and trying to improve their habitat in agricultural landscapes are two of the main goals of the project established by the Prof. KAI Nekaris in Java in 2011 (http://www.nocturama.org). As a part of this project, I study the behaviour of slow lorises in regards to land use changes to identify their habitat key components. At the same time, the project is trying to bring back connectivity in agricultural lands to allow slow lorises to cross agricultural fields and access other resource patches. The ultimate objective of this project is to design slow loris-friendly agricultural practices to help them persist in human dominated landscapes.

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Adult Javan slow loris caught by a camera trap travelling on a waterline

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