International Women’s Day 2020: Anna Nekaris
Raising awareness and reducing the threats of the wildlife trade
Lorises are hunted for medicine, the pet trade, and suffer from devastating habitat loss. Fewer than 10,000 hectares of rainforest remains in Java, so Anna is working with farmers to make their land suitable for lorises too.
How did you come to lead your conservation team?
I initially was a ‘lone’ researcher, moving between projects, and assembling small teams. With this experience under my belt, it was time for a long-term project, as I came to realise that without the support of the local community and long-term commitment, we were only getting brief glimpses into the lives of animals and their threats. We now have team members who have been continually with Little Fireface Project since 2012 and their long term commitment, expertise and passion make all the difference.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Challenges come in many forms. Every time a new slow loris video goes viral, and the pet trade ramps up again, we feel we are fighting a losing battle. At the same time, we definitely have seen incredible change in awareness and behaviour in regards to responses to animal cruelty and illegal wildlife trade online and in the marketplace. Sometimes bigger challenges are closer to home, with small issues of politics and personal beliefs affecting the team dynamic, which can be fragile. Trying to convince team members that their work should be for the animals and not for personal sense of satisfaction is a challenge in the modern world.
What has been your biggest achievement in the field in the past year?
Without a doubt, the establishment of a total hunting ban and an associated littering ban, making the village where we study a population of Critically Endangered slow lorises one of the first green villages in West Java, is huge and is actually among the biggest achievements of my life and completely reflects the importance of the long-term commitment to this change, continual presence in the community, and a wonderful team!
What would you say to aspiring women who want a future in conservation?
In many rural areas where some of the rarest animals in the world live, there is often a sense of inequality between men and women. No matter how old you are you may be called a little girl, or even your achievements may be attributed to a man. I think we need to decide to fight the fight we want to fight, and for me that is helping to save animals. I cannot change a whole culture and its perceptions towards my sex, and in reality they are not being mean or cruel in following their cultural beliefs. As long as that type of behaviour does not physically or mentally harm you, keep going. The animals have no voice and I can take a bit of suffering if it can help them!