3 August 2012

Reducing stress in captive slow lorises

By Andy Gray 

Slow loris researcher Andy Gray
I am currently a volunteer researcher at IAR’s Ciapus Primate Centre studying to get my Master’s degree from Oxford Brookes University. In my 3 months here, I have been conducting a captive study to examine which types of enrichment might reduce stress for the slow lorises living here. In particular, I have used tree gums, as gouging large holes in trees for gum has been reported often in the wild. Because many of the lorises at the centre have their teeth brutally clipped or pulled in the illegal trade, gouging these holes is quite difficult for them in captivity. My goal was to provide a successful way for the lorises to eat tree gums while still performing some “gouging” behaviours through soft materials, like banana leaves. I also wanted this to be challenging and entertaining enrichment for the lorises with teeth as well.
It has been incredibly rewarding to watch the lorises enjoy the enrichment that the keepers, vets, and I designed. We have given them pine cones with mashed banana, branches with gum inside holes wrapped with banana leaf, and frozen gum and kalliandra flowers inside large bundles of grass (I suspect they liked this last one the most!). I have been very busy collecting as much data as I can for this study. The keepers joke that I have become a kukang (loris) because I collect data until 5am. It is incredible to be alone in the nighttime watching the lorises. I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like it before. 
Erwin eating gum enrichment
Beyond my enrichment study, I have also conducted an experiment regarding boldness and shyness of the lorises. I have focused on lorises who are candidates for release, and have used novel objects to determine how willing they are to approach and explore new things. I hope that this will be beneficial for the centre when judging which lorises are the best candidates for release, because studies with other species have shown that animals survive better post-release if they are either bold or shy (depending on the species). No one has studied this before in lorises, so it is unknown whether or not they are more likely to survive if they are bold or shy. I am very excited for the long-term research possibilities for the centre, even after I leave. 
This project has been incredibly rewarding. It feels good to be contributing to both the captive care and the reintroduction project here at IAR Indonesia. However, the root of the problem is the illegal trade. In the future, I hope I can also be involved in efforts to combat this, as it is so important for the survival of the species and individual welfare. Please follow IAR Indonesia’s fantastic law enforcement work, and keep spreading the word about stopping the illegal wildlife trade!

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