Saving the Asian loris

Professor Anna Nekaris

Professor Anna Nekaris has made a significant and lasting contribution to efforts to save Critically Endangered species of nocturnal primates – the Asian slow and slender lorises.

Already threatened by habitat loss, the survival of this unique group of species is further jeopardised by the popularity of lorises for use in traditional medicines, black magic, and the pet and photo prop trades.

Anna has dedicated herself to reducing these illegal trades; to improving the welfare of slow and slender lorises in captivity; to developing more effective rehabilitation and to reintroducing them more successfully into the wild. Through social media, education and international events, she and her team have also raised global awareness of the lorises’ plight.

Leading conservation efforts

Anna established the Little Fireface Project, a field project in west Java, Indonesia, dedicated to the study of slow and slender lorises in one of the last habitats in which they are found, as well as to their conservation through habitat restoration.

Working collaboratively with zoos, rescue centres and local communities, the project has planted more than 20,000 trees, installed 25 wildlife crossings, trained new conservationists, and reached more than 1,800 children through its educational outreach programmes.

The project’s work to improve understanding of the behavioural ecology, feeding and captive breeding of slow lorises has improved welfare and survival rates in zoos and rescue centres worldwide, and even enabled successful loris breeding in captivity.

Rescue and rehabilitation

Previously, slow lorises were so little known in rescue centres in south and southeast Asia that they would often die within weeks. Those that did survive captivity were plagued by ill health, including obesity, dental diseases, and decreased fertility.

Anna’s research into the feeding habits of lorises in their natural habitat identified a markedly different intake to the typically fruit-based diet they received in zoos and rescue centres, finding that they fed mostly on insects, plant saps and gums.

Training more than 700 rescue centre staff in 9 Asian countries, including Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand, Anna enabled many to identify for the first time the animals entering their centres. She equipped them with the knowledge to care for them in line with the principles of compassionate conservation, and developed effective protocols for release of rehabilitated lorises back into the wild.

As a direct result of her work, the Endangered Asian Species Trust in Vietnam overcame an almost 100% death rate in loris reintroductions and now boasts almost 100% success.

Slow loris

“Professor Nekaris’s research on the feeding ecology, social organisation, habitat use, and behaviour of slow and slender lorises has directly influenced our management of these animals in our rescue and rehabilitation centre. Her work has significantly helped improve the welfare of the slow lorises and also sped up their rehabilitation process.”

Director, Indonesian wildlife preservation foundation Yayasan Peduli Kelestarian Satwa Liar

Reducing illegal trade

Anna’s research informed a campaign to reduce illegal loris trade in Japan, which the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) lists as importing the highest number of slow lorises in the world. Her work revealed the extent of the problem, helped to increase awareness within Japanese society and directly contributing to improved legislation governing the pet trade of globally threatened animal species such as slow lorises.

Raising awareness in the Pangauban community
Raising awareness in the Pangauban community
Installing a wildlife waterline bridge
Installing a wildlife waterline bridge
Conservation education programmes with local children
Conservation education programmes with local children

Raising public awareness

Anna’s understanding of the specific cultural drivers encouraging the illegal loris trade in the different countries of south and southeast Asia has enabled conservationists and governments to target interventions for greater effect.

Revealing the role of the internet in fuelling demand for lorises as pets by portraying them as ‘cuddly’ animals, Anna’s research has been used to increase global awareness of the plight of Asian lorises through social media campaigns such as International Animal Rescue’s Tickling is Torture and the Kukang Rescue Programme’s I am Not Your Toy.

Slow Loris Outreach Week (S.L.O.W.), established by the Little Fireface Project and held annually since 2013, is an international event that aims to increase awareness of loris conservation and the impact of illegal trade on the species.

Educating children in local communities

Anna and the Little Fireface Project team have also worked extensively with local communities throughout south and southeast Asia to educate school children, teachers and the general public. Klub Alam, a nature club held at the project, attracts around 60 children aged 3-17 a week who are eager to learn about their local ecology.

Meanwhile, the Slow Loris Forest Protector programme – which combines creativity and science to educate children on conserving wild flora, fauna and their habitats – has reached more than 1,800 children aged 11-13 across western Indonesia.

A children’s book written by Anna, Slow Loris Forest Protector, has been translated into 8 languages, with more than 8,500 copies distributed so far.