Teaching Indonesian children natural history can change attitudes about illegal wildlife trade
Monday, 14 August 2017
New research, which has assessed the impact of a children’s storybook on a Critically Endangered species – the Javan slow loris – has been published today by scientific journal Conservation Biology (Monday 14 August).
A team of
researchers from Oxford Brookes University, Gadjah Mada University, Indonesia and
the Little Fireface Project produced a book and education programme designed to
teach children about the nocturnal primates that are under threat because of
being captured from the wild and traded illegally as pets.
Anna Nekaris, Professor in Primate Conservation and Anthropology at Oxford
Brookes University and Director of the Little Fireface Project, wrote the book
and was the lead author of the study. She said: “After assessing more than 50
books written for primate conservation projects, I was shocked to see that more
than 80% of them contained scenes of fire, animals in tears and death.
Education theorists have pointed out that such story writing can be destructive
and cause readers to have a sense of hopelessness, or even sadness and fear.
books should spark imagination and be delightful – with this in mind, the book
was carefully created so that children would want to return to read it again
which is entitled Slow Loris Forest
Protector, follows the story of a mother and son slow loris moving through
their agroforest environment. The mother teaches her son how to find food,
including flowers that they pollinate and insect pests that harm farmers’
crops. The depth of the family connection is emphasised, as well as the need
for the young loris to learn from his mother. The moral of the story is that by
leaving the primates in the forest, they are more helpful to humans than by
keeping them in one’s home.
1000 children aged between 8 and 12 years, took part in the research team’s
education programme study, which took place in West Java. More than 500
children took part in a cultural consensus assessment – a technique normally
used by social scientists- where children were asked to write an essay on
everything they knew about the slow loris.
reading the book, many of the children appeared to know little about the slow
loris, describing general animals rather than details specific to the primate.
Those who appeared to know a little more, wrote that it lived in the forest and
was brown in colour.
children took the book away for three months, the team returned to the schools
and asked them to write a second essay. In the second essay, the children could
not only repeat almost all key concepts in the book, but many had discovered
that slow lorises are protected, that it is illegal to catch them and some
learned the penalties. One nine year-old boy wrote:
“Slow lorises are the protectors of the forest. They love to eat pollen
from Calliandra flowers and gum from the jiengjeng trees. They have big teeth
that are useful to not only protect the forest, but also help the farmers by
eating the pests off of their crops. Slow lorises should be protected because
they are special and have toxic venom. If you catch a loris, you will go to
jail for 5 years. Even though they are already protected by the government, we
should protect them more.”
Nekaris continued: “By asking children to write their own creative stories, we
could truly see what they learned. We could also see that they clearly read the
book in their homes and sought information from adults on what they could do to
help the slow loris.”
Co-author of the study Denise Span, who led many of the teaching
sessions, commented: “The drawings in the book were so magical, it was easy for
the children to become engaged. We were very careful not to mention any threats
to slow lorises, but kept the entire first session positive so that children
could immerse themselves in the knowledge of this animal they were learning
about for the first time.”
Indonesian co-author from Gadjah Mada University,
Muhammad Ali Imron, notes that this novel approach of assessing conservation education
programmes can make a substantial contribution to the Indonesian government,
NGOs and Universities. Imron said: “This multi-disciplinary approach to
conservation programmes was overlooked by many conservation initiatives in
countries that face many threats to their endangered species, such as
Indonesia. We have so many conservation education programmes but until now,
evaluation has been limited.”
The book and
associated education programme were self-published with funding from People’s
Trust for Endangered Species, Lush Charity Pot, Born Free Foundation, Cleveland
Zoo and Zoo Society and Augsburg Zoo. The book Slow Loris Forest Protector is available for sale in English on the
Little Fireface Project Etsy Shop and all proceeds go directly back to funding
slow loris conservation. Free translations of the book in Indonesian and Vietnamese
can be downloaded from the Little Fireface Project website at www.nocturama.org.
information about the slow loris and the Oxford Brookes University’s
conservation work can be found on the Oxford Brookes
Image from Slow Loris Forest Protector, by Anna
Nekaris, illustrated by Shelley Low.