16 July 2013

An in-depth look at IAR's slow loris rehabilitation process

by Namrata B Anirudh

The IAR Indonesia centre in Ciapus, Bogor currently has 81 lorises consisting of 3 species – Nycticebus Coucang, N. Javanicus and N. Menagensis - rescued from pet owners and housed for rehabilitation and subsequent release. 

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to carry out behavioural studies as part of my dissertation on the captive lorises at the centre.

The Loris Project at the centre is a multi-dimensional one. A controversial and current problem with the illegal pet trade is the hunting of lorises from the wild and selling them in markets which are not suitable for any animals let alone endangered species. Apart from the conservation aspect, the cruelty towards these species in the market before they are sold is of great concern to people working in the field of rescue and rehabilitation. IAR Indonesia not only deals with the immediate problem of rehabilitating confiscated individuals, but also deals with other aspects of this trade, such as awareness-building among students and the public in major cities, in local villages around loris habitats; conducting interviews with people involved in different aspects of the trade; scouting for suitable release locations and monitoring those released from the centre.
Outreach work in Bogor
I worked with animals at the centre and therefore I can shed some light on this aspect of the work being done. The animals at the centre are confiscated at different ages. Some animals were born at the centre whereas some come in as juveniles or adults. The process of rehabilitation of species such as lorises can be tricky. The lack of abundant research on these species, the fact that they are nocturnal, sensitive to diseases, of small body size, possessing a different social repertoire from other diurnal primates and their coping strategies in a captive environment all make them difficult species to manage. However, in my view IAR Indonesia succeeds in managing them in the best possible way within those obvious constraints.

Erwin eating gum enrichment
The lorises are housed in cages, provided with trees, foliage, branches and twine in order to create a variety of substrates for locomotion, sleep and to be able to express as natural behaviour as possible. They are fed twice a day with a pre-set nutritional diet planned by the on-site veterinarians, with special attention given to those that are suffering from health problems and mother-infant pairs.

For the purpose of rehabilitation, International Animal Rescue ensures the following:
·         Arboreal
o   As these species are arboreal, all the food and water trays are placed at a height.
o   Sleeping sites, such as bamboo hollows and baskets are hung from the top of the cages.
o   Routine replacement of leaves and branches is carried out to make the cages suitable for the animals.
·         Insectivorous and frugivorous
o   Diet consisting of insects and fruits is provided. Every meal (fed twice in their active period) consists of different fruits and insects to avoid boredom and to provide them with their nutritional requirements.
o   The food is placed at a considerable height from the ground to encourage feeding at heights and minimise foraging on the ground.

o   All enrichment provided is food related. Enrichment is provided to the animals after the second meal, to encourage activity and discourage unwanted behaviours such as stereotypies and inactivity throughout the rest of their active period.
·         Grouping
o   The animals are grouped 2, 3 or 4 per cage depending on the cage size. Some cages have only a single loris depending on the type of social interactions with other conspecifics.
o   The groups are created according to the sex of the individuals, the type and amount of social interaction with others and depending on whether they are release or non-release candidates.
o   In my view, this aspect in the process of rehabilitation is vital, as socialisation is vital to the physical and mental welfare of an animal.
·         Sanctuary
o   The lorises that are to be released are housed in sanctuary cages. These cages are larger in size, have more foliage and trees and are partially covered by a roof. This is another very important point in rehabilitation, to get the animals accustomed to natural weather conditions and changes. The cages also have fruit trees to encourage foraging and reduce the dependency on the food provided to them.

An enthusiastic and motivated group of people manage the animals at the centre. My experience of working closely with them has shown that they know a lot about the individual animals and are keen to look after their welfare. It was interesting to see that they were also interested in different ways of creating enrichment that would reduce stereotypies in some of the individuals. The team is involved in cleaning, feeding and observing the animals. One to be released and 2 non-release animals are taken as focal animals and behavioural observations are recorded for 1 and 2 hours respectively every night, using an ethogram of social, individual and locomotory behaviours.
What could be worked on at the centre?

-          The movement of animals between cages - this is an important point as moving an animal from one cage to another could be stressful at many levels, such as forming new social bonds, getting used to the cage and its features, novel interactions, unfamiliarity. All of these could lead to behavioural problems. Another aspect is the welfare of the individuals present in the cage into which a new individual is introduced. Depending on the sex, age and the social ranking of the introduced individual, the form of interaction with the others may have an impact and may lead to negative interactions, resulting in injuries or stereotypic behaviour. The movement of individuals must therefore be done with a lot of care and understanding of the situation. The reason for movement should also be considered - Is the shift necessary or is there a way of dealing with the problem through any other methods? (eg enrichment, changing amount of foliage, substrates for locomotion – depending on the problem.) If a shift is made, then the animal shifted, as well as the animals originally present in the cage, must be observed for behaviour, food intake, interactions etc.

-          Increase height of cages - this is a problem that is difficult to deal with as the cages have already been established and have animals in each one of them. If the purpose is rehabilitation and lorises in the wild frequent trees up to 30 to 40 m in height, a similar opportunity must be provided at the centre as well, to avoid problems of predation for foraging too low after release. The height of the cages currently ranges from 2m to 8m (sanctuary). Since animals spend only a short time in the sanctuary cages before release, it is not sufficient for them to learn to use such heights.

-          Enrichment that is currently based only on food is effective but only for the period of time the enrichment lasts. Some of the enrichment lasts for a very short period or is not of interest to some individuals who spend a large proportion of their active period carrying out stereotypical behaviour. Introducing locomotory enrichment or finding a solution to discourage or reduce stereotypy is vital in the process of rehabilitation as well. A good way to go about it is in some cases to figure out the reason for stereotyping. Some tend to stereotype most before feeding and reduce stereotypic behaviour after being fed, some stereotype in the presence of a dominant conspecific, others during feeding which could be a result of the type of food or the competition in the cage for food. In others that stereotype for more than 50% of their active time, the reasons could be past experiences or small home range or reasons that cannot be determined, thus using some form of enrichment, trying to introduce/change the conspecific in the same cage or shift cages may be helpful.

In my opinion, the centre is making great efforts to turn around the current situation in the best way possible. Although there are areas that can be explored further, new ideas implemented and changes made to various aspects of the project, in my view the current project on the lorises deals with the situation holistically. Working with species like lorises has many constraints that are challenging but the centre manages to tackle a number of them and provide rehabilitation for those rescued which has been proven to be effective. The centre is also successfully returning a number of the lorises to their rightful home in the wild!

Returning a slow loris to the wild

For more information on the work International Animal Rescue does with slow lorises, please visit our website!

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