Fieldwork Journal: Getting the Word Out about Lorises

by AMNH on

From the Field posts

Mary Blair, assistant director for research and strategic planning at the Museum’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, is blogging from the field during her spring expedition to Vietnam.

It’s the middle of the night, and it’s pitch black in a Vietnamese forest. You are armed with nothing but a headlamp and a camera. You see something shining back at you in the dark—what is it? How can you tell? Let me give you some tips. 

My team is surveying for lorises (Nycticebus pygmaeus) in Vietnam's Bu Gia Map National Park.

Nguyen Van Thanh Vietnam
Nguyễn Văn Thành, a graduate student from the Department of Genetics at Hanoi University of Science, who is training in nocturnal survey techniques as well as conservation genetics analysis
Mary Blair

In addition to searching for lorises, we are spreading awareness among local communities about loris conservation and threats to their survival, and we are also developing the skills of Vietnamese students and park rangers for nocturnal survey work.

As a part of a meeting to raise awareness about slow loris conservation, community members from Bu Dop Village draw maps of Bu Gia Map National Park to describe where they have seen lorises and where they think the best habitat is for them in the park.  
Thạch Mai Hoàng

When we spot a loris (or so we think), we shine a spotlight on the animal to get a good look, confirm the species, and hopefully take a photograph. Sounds easy, right? Well, it’s not foolproof—but it is fun, and once you know just a few facts, you can find them.

Here are some things to know about spotting lorises.

You will see other mammals—it’s not lorises but civets that are the most common mammals we see during night surveys. 

A common palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) seen during night surveys in Bu Gia Map National Park 
Thạch Mai Hoàng

Civets are small carnivores of the family Viverridae. We often see them in trees at night, and, because a civet’s eyes are smaller, at first it’s easy to think it’s a loris perching far away.

But a lorises’ eyes have the telltale red-orange eyeshine—a civet’s is a bit yellower.

Once caught in our headlamps’ lights, lorises act differently from civets.

Lorises exhibit “cryptic” anti-predator behavior: in order to avoid predators, they try to stay still and avoid being seen. When you spot them and they see the light of your headlamp, they often stay right where they are. And, if you wiggle your headlamp at them a bit, you can capture their attention and make sure they don’t look away, giving you time to hoot at your team member to shine a brighter spotlight and begin taking data.

Meanwhile, a civet will typically run away immediately. 

Sitting is a tree, a black-shanked douc, a species of Old World monkey, native to Southeast Asia.
A black shanked douc (Pygathrix nigripes) in Bu Gia Map National Park 
Thạch Mai Hoàng

So far, during the days, my team has seen some amazing animals as well, including yellow-cheeked gibbons, black-shanked doucs, and birds including hornbills, olive-backed sunbirds, and sooty-headed bulbuls.  I hope to have some great loris photos to show you in the next post.  

Great Hornbill
A great hornbill (Buceros bicornis) eating red fruit in Bu Gia Map National Park. Great hornbills are rare and declining in Vietnam.
Thạch Mai Hoàng

P.S. I’m happy to report I’ve had no leech encounters yet!

This work is supported in part by a grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.