Having once risen to Internet fame after “adorable” videos of them being tickled went viral (Check here for more on why you shouldn’t), slow lorises are among the most recognized and unusual-looking primates alive today. Unfortunately, they also take the title as some of the least studied and protected primate species, and in recent years their populations have been steadily losing their stability.
The Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus) is one of nine extant species of slow loris and is found on the Indonesian island of the same name. Java has seen more than 90 percent of its forest lost to development, fragmenting the rainforest and putting tree-dwelling species such as the slow loris at risk. These pint-sized, venomous animals aren’t great leapers like some of their cousins, and so must make for the ground to move between the sparse forest. This puts the big-eyed arborealists at risk from parasites, poachers, and predators, painting a bleak future for a species confined to an island that is steadily losing its canopy.
New research published in the American Journal of Primatology has taken to the skies to try and solve this problem by testing the efficacy of artificial bridges in closing the gaps between slow loris habitats. Anna Nekaris, from the organization Little Fireface Project and a researcher at Oxford Brookes University, UK, worked with a team to install seven bridges made of rubber and water pipes in the treetops to see if the lorises would use them to travel between trees.
“The greatest threat [to slow lorises] is predation or being captured for the pet trade,” said Anna Nekaris in an email to IFLScience. “We know that most animals captured for trade come from anthropogenic landscapes where it is very easy for hunters to catch animals on the ground... But in our study site specifically, feral dogs pose the greatest risk.”
It was 13 days before any slow lorises approached the artificial bridges, but soon they were seeing loris traffic every night, which both reduced the time spent on the ground and increased the home ranges for these animals, boosting their foraging success. The pipe bridges also came with an extra benefit, as they didn’t just help the lorises but also improved the irrigation of crops for local farmers, many of whom grow coffee beans. This extra boon improved the farmers’ attitudes towards wildlife in creating a solution that was designed not just for wildlife but for the benefit of the people who live and work there too.
“The water pipes out-performed the rubber bridges as they also provided a substrate for more wildlife,” Nekaris said. “And, in terms of the actual construction, [the pipes] are intended to support a heavy flow of water, which means they were more stable and lasted longer. They are only erected with the support of the farmer who actually has a need for the pipe as it will increase the growth of their crops, and we are immediately informed of any damage so we can repair them. The farmers very much appreciate the pipes, the price of which is equivalent to about six months of wages.
“Through a concurrent education program with the farmers' children, they now know the names of the individual slow lorises that live on their land. They feel a sense of pride for those particular animals and have framed photographs of the individuals in their homes. This work with farmers ultimately led to a total hunting ban in the area, too, which contributed towards an exciting project that could see their coffee farms officially certified as "wildlife friendly", the results of which we hope to publish soon."