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Sophie Manson, Little Fireface Project

Sophie Manson was born and studied in the UK. Studying Zoology at the University of Bristol, Sophie worked towards gaining experience in the field. A highlight of her journey was becoming Project Manager at the Dwarf Mongoose Research Project in South Africa. This set her up nicely to become the Field Station Coordinator at the Little Fireface Project (LFP). This conservation project is dedicated to the study and protection of the Javan slow loris, a Critically Endangered primate endemic to the island of Java, Indonesia. Sophie kindly answered some questions for us on what inspired her choices and the work being done by the Little Fireface Project.

What made you work in conservation? What was your inspiration?

After wanting to be a vet for absolutely ages, I realised that this kind of animal care was not what I wanted to do. Rather than protecting a particular animal, as important as that is, I wanted to ensure a safer future for species as a whole. From there it was simple, conservation it was. I had always loved the outdoor environment, but it was not until I could easily access articles about environmental injustices happening in the world that I realised how passionately I cared about conservation.

What steps led you to where you are today?

I don’t believe that academic learning is enough in itself and so I have always tried to get as much experience as possible. For example, I volunteered in my local Wildlife Trust, I’ve written conservation-based articles for local newspapers both in the UK and New Zealand, where I lived for several months, and I’ve done interviews for online conservation publications. So, I would say a mixture of study and getting well and truly stuck in!

What is your favourite aspect of your job?

I would say one of my favourite aspects of my job is learning from the local community of Cipaganti and from all the visitors who come to the project, having the opportunity to speak to a range of amazing people. Learning the myths and legends of the local farmers, welcoming bright-eyed and bushy-tailed students from universities both in Java and abroad and also being taught about the organic farming practices available to people here in Indonesia. And of course, observing the slow lorises has been magical.

What was your proudest moment as a conservationist so far?

Alongside the behavioural research we do, early last year we started the LFP Wildlife-Friendly Coffee Programme. The aim of the project is to promote wildlife-friendly farming and preserve biodiversity by creating habitats for wildlife within farm plantations. My proudest moment would have to be when the residents and farmers of Cipaganti established a hunting and littering ban in the local area with the support of the Coffee Programme, the first of its kind in the country.

What advice would you give to new conservationists trying to build a career?

I would say “go for it!”. You’ll often hear that the field of conservation is difficult to get into, or that it’s oversaturated. That could not be further from the truth; the world needs more conservationists! Whether you pursue a career in research or you want to take the more creative route and become a wildlife artist or social media campaigner, there are a thousand ways to be a conservationist. Don’t be put off also if people tell you it’s a very competitive world and you will struggle to find a place in it, I think if you’re passionate and determined, you will find your place.

What are your future career goals?

I’m feeling very excited as I’m about to embark on a PhD at Oxford Brookes University looking at the ecosystem services that vertebrates provide within sustainable agriculture. I would love to work as a consultant for an NGO or help to implement environmental policy.

Why do you think people should care about conservation and the environment?

Caring about the environment and conservation is so much more than protecting endangered species, as important as that is. Protecting our environment and the species within it increases social wellbeing and significantly improves quality of life for us humans too. Conservation means investing in the lives of those of us who are most in need, animals and humans alike.

Give us a brief intro to what LFP does and what the aims are

Our main aim is to contribute to the conservation of slow and slender lorises across the world by studying their behaviour and raising awareness through education and campaigning. Our strategy is threefold; to better understand loris ecology so that we can make more informed conservation efforts and assist rescue and rehabilitation centres; educate people on the unethical pet trade and the importance of biodiversity; and empower people so that communities can establish on-the-ground conservation initiatives.

How did the LFP start?

LFP was born out of the Nocturnal Primate Research Group at Oxford Brookes University and was founded by Professor Anna Nekaris who has been studying slow and slender lorises for over 20 years. The birth of our field station here in West Java came in 2011, where LFP became an organisation in its own right. Although the main field station of LFP exists here in Indonesia, we continue to contribute to the study of slow and slender lorises all over the world.

What conservation issues does the LFP face?

Slow and slender lorises have the remarkable ability to persist in areas close to human habitation. Because of their close proximity to humans, they are heavily threatened by several factors, the most prominent of which are the illegal pet trade and deforestation. Like many areas in the world, rapid deforestation and habitat fragmentation are changing ecosystems drastically, isolating populations, restricting movements and causing genetic sinks

How does your organisation interact with the local community?

Our trackers, Dendi, Aconk, Adin, Yiyi and Rahmat, are all from Cipaganti; we rely heavily on their in-depth local knowledge, from navigating our way through the agroforest environment surrounding the village to understanding the local tree species in which we find the lorises.

Our latest branch of LFP, the wildlife-friendly coffee programme, would be nothing without the local community. With the help of Cipaganti conservationists, Gun Gun and Aconk, we collaborate with local farmers to promote wildlife-friendly farming practices and protect the biodiversity they need in order to sustain their small-holder farms.

What are the long-term goals for the LFP?

With the support of the residents of Cipaganti and our wonderful sponsors, our main goal here in Java is to establish a long-term, sustainable conservation plan that is championed by the people who live and work here. Our work would be nothing if it was only maintained by the researchers who come here to study the lorises. If we are to produce successful conservation initiatives, we need there to be a lasting legacy and this can only be achieved through respectful knowledge exchange, working collaboratively and learning from each other.

For more information about how to get involved and support the Little Fireface Project visit their website or find them on social media. You can also help them out by browsing through their shop, selling all sorts of loris related merchandise, Etsy shop.


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