Contributing to the conservation of of the Gray Slender Loris in Sri Lanka through science and media

When: July – August 2017

Where: NIFS Sam Popham Arboretum, Sri Lanka

What: An expedition combining conservation science and natural history media, to contribute to better protection of the Gray Slender Loris and other biodiversity of Central Sri Lanka.

Who: Students, staff and graduates from Falmouth University and the University of Exeter.

Status: Planning 

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This multidisciplinary project is taking place in the NIFS Sri Lanka Popham Arboretum, near Dambulla. The Arboretum has asked us to develop its conservation strategies and improve its financial sustainability. We shall be teaming up with Prof. Mayuri Wijesinghe and the University of Colombo and the Arboretum to conduct scientific and photographic research, to determine the size of the gray slender loris (Loris lydekkeriannus ssp. nordicus) population.

We aim to document the behaviours of the decreasing population and the potential threats; using point counts and habitat surveys, to devise strategies to combat this. We will use our photography and videography talent to build a media bank that will be used to promote the Arboretum. It will also be used by Ruk Rakaganno (The Sri Lanka Tree Society) and other Sri Lankan authorities to protect the gray slender loris and its habitat for the future, as well as NGOs back in the U.K such as Wildscreen Exchange based in Bristol. We will disseminate our findings through our report and papers published in scientific journals.


The NIFS Popham Arboretum, Sri Lanka’s only dry zone arboretum, was established over five decades ago on 7.5 acres of thorny scrub jungle on the outskirts of Dambulla, which later expanded to 35 acres. Dambulla is in the geographical center of the island, where history and culture merge amidst a natural landscape of water and mountains.

Sri Lanka is one of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots, making the arboretum a safe haven to a variety endemic species of birds, butterflies, dragonflies, spiders, reptiles and mammals including the endangered Gray Slender Loris. This species of Loris is only found in central and upland Sri Lanka and Southern India. The Arboretum’s vision is to conserve the tropical flora and fauna for the future generations to come, whilst facing the ongoing challenge of city expansion and local deforestation.


NIFS Sam Popham Arboretum, Kandalama Road, Dambulla 21100, Sri Lanka


The overall aim of this project is to build upon and develop the Arboretum’s conservation, geographical and ecological strategies. To achieve this, the team will be split into two key parts.

The first part of the team will conduct scientific research on the behaviour of the declining slender loris population. The aim is to assess if and how tourism and other factors, such as urban encroachment, are impacting on a local scale. The results will allow us and the Arboretum to develop a management strategy for the loris, the Arboretum’s primary attraction.

The other part of the team will be focusing on photography and videography, creating a library of media for the Arboretum. The media produced will be key in both documenting the behaviours exhibited by the loris,but also in further outreach projects in the UK and Sri Lanka. We will produce fundraising merchandise for tourists as well a short documentary on the Arboretum including our research and findings.

In addition, we will be helping the Arboretum develop a two-week educational programme that they will run on site for national and international volunteers. This programme will be a combination of practical and lecture based learning and will educate volunteers about Sri Lanka’s geography and ecology along with the conservation issues the country faces.

We will be producing a photo book, documentary and other souvenirs for the Arboretum to sell in a newly developed shop; this will allow them to generate additional forms of income. The imagery will also be distributed to the relevant sponsors and supporters. We will also aim to produce regular blogs pre, during and post expedition about our work, where we can gain internet access. When back in the UK, the undergraduate students will be making a series of talks to local people about their time and work at the Arboretum.


The arboretum receives no funding survives on entrance fees and ecotourism they need to develop strategies to build a sustainable future and generate sufficient interest to be able to grow to afford to implement robust conservation strategies.The media we produce will be used by the arboretum for future promotions and to develop new merchandise to improve on site and internet sales.

Historically, Sri Lanka would have been covered in forest, excluding the extreme highlands, with the centre of the island occupied by dry monsoon forest. Much of Sri Lanka has been deforested for economic prosperity, in most cases for the for lucrative tea trade in the 1800s, but in more recent times for palm oil industry. This has left the Popham Arboretum as an island oasis of the dry monsoon forest in a desert of deforestation, protected only by the forethought of Sam Popham in the 1960s. The Popham Principle restored a disused tea plantation to primary forest, which is now the only remaining fragment in central Sri Lanka. It is important for the both the wildlife of Sri Lanka, as well the people of Sri Lanka to protect their remaining forests. Project Loris aims to find practical ways to protect the Gray Slender Loris and sustain the Arboretum’s rewilding practices through ecotourism, Sri Lanka’s natural future hinges on finding ways to promote endangered and threatened species as well as fund their protection.


A team of sixteen, Project Loris contains a mixture of highly experienced zoologists, biologists and natural history photographers, all of which are currently studying, lecturing or have studied at Falmouth & Exeter Universities’ Cornwall Campus.

  • Margaret Upton (Expedition Leader & Scientific Director)
  • Josh Raper (Co Leader & Director of Photography)
  • Josh Pawloski (Director of Stills Photography & Logistics Assistant)
  • Holly Wilkinson (Director of Videography, Social Media Assistant and Reptiles)
  • Meike Simms (Assistant Scientific Director)
  • Lizzie Nicolson-Lai (Assistant Biologist/ Event Assistant and Invertebrates)
  • Gemma Wearing (Educational Material Assistant and Mammals)
  • William Tanner (Videographer Assistant, Events Assistant and Flora)
  • Lily Ann Sparrow (Events Assistant, Fundraising and Conservation Photojournalism)
  • Lewis Easdown (Fundraising and Research Team Assistant and Mammals)
  • Chloe Boffey (Fundraising Assistant, Visual Content Creator and Birds)
  • Keith Jones (Financial Controller, Fundraising, Events Assistant and Birds)
  • Lydia Thomas (Assistant Biologist and Landscapes)
  • Rose Summers (Graphic Designer, Online Content Creator and Reptiles)
  • Joseph Gray (Sustainability and Ethics Officer, Online Content Creator and Flora)
  • Filipa Antunes (Online Content Creator, Fundraising and Invertebrates)


The Institute of Photography has been very supportive of Project Loris, allowing us to use their facilities and have access to their equipment for our expedition. Their backing has also allowed us to secure student research visas, which would otherwise have proved difficult. The IoP’s continued advice and expertise has been incredibly helpful throughout, allowing us to make Project Loris an excellent expedition for all concerned.

Wildscreen Exchange – the expedition team will be producing a media bank for conservation NGOs to use for future conservation projects. This then raises awareness about not only the selected students’ excellent photography and documentary talent, but the work of FalmouthUniversity too.

Wildscreen Arkive – The team have approached us about writing a set of blogs on nocturnal species documentary tips as well as content on conservation threats in Sri Lanka and those facing the Slender Loris.

Nic Dunn, Director and Julie Matthews, Educational Officer for Shaldon Wildlife Trust – Both Nic Dunn and Julie Matthews have shown their support for the project by allowing us to film and research their slender loris. Shaldon Wildlife Trust is already supporting The Little Fireface Project and have offered access and information for future reference.

Stewart Muir, Head of Collections for Newquay Zoo – Stewart Muir has also expressed his support for the project and allowed us to interview him and to film at Newquay Zoo. The team have been offered further access and information on the slender loris to further the project.

Prof. Anna Nekaris, Professor in Anthropology and Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes University, Director of the Little Fireface Project – Prof. Nekaris has been contacted and provided support in terms of research papers, scientific journals and support with methodology. The team will be using her as a valuable resource during planning due to her extensive knowledge on all loris species.

Dr. Sarah Hodge, Senior lecturer in Zoology at Exeter University and Chair of Cornwall Mammal Group – Dr. Hodge has met with members of the team and expressed an interest in collaborating with us. She is overseeing the developments of Operation Hedgehog run by Exeter students. Our hope is to associate with their project and to combine resources to increase the outreach of both projects in the UK and Sri Lanka.

Martin Holland, Founder of Expedition Base Camp – The team have contacted Martin Holland who has shown a great deal of interest in the project. We hope to use his platform, Expedition Base Camp, to further publicise the project and to gain support in planning and logistics.



Pre-fieldwork / preparation: £300
International travel (flights): £7280
Subsistence (accommodation and food):£8000
In-country travel: £720
Local counterparts / guides: £200
Field equipment: £2000
Post-fieldwork activities: £500
Preparation of project report: £250
Dissemination of findings: £250
Sub-total: £19500
Contingency (usually 10% of sub-total): £1950

Estimated total cost of Expedition: £21450


Members’ Contributions
Average per person £ 1220 Total £19520

Grant funding of £2000+ applied for to cover the remainder of the budget

So far received approx. £800


Gilchrist Educational Trust


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