Cute and fuzzy but also vicious and venomous, Javan slow lorises have been driven to the brink of extinction by habitat destruction and the illegal pet trade.The Little Fireface Project in West Java is the first long-term research project focusing on the critically endangered primate.In addition to making strides toward understanding how to care for and reintroduce lorises to the wild, the project has revealed new details about the species’ complex, and often reality-show-worthy social behavior. WEST JAVA, Indonesia — Once we leave the village of Cipaganti in West Java, we turn our headlamps on, casting beams into the rapidly descending darkness. We take a path up a mountain slope past fields of tea, coffee and chayote squash. Large trees, where the forest once stood, border the fields. Primatologist Hélène Birot and three Indonesian trackers cast their beams into them from time to time, looking for Javan slow lorises (Nycticebus javanicus). I’m shadowing a team from the Little Fireface Project (LFP), a research and conservation organization devoted to these furry arboreal goblins. Slow lorises are some of the world’s most bizarre primates — big-eyed, venomous, often moving like the Tin Man — and some of the least studied. As we get deeper in, the trackers take out a radio antenna to get the location of the collared male we’re trying to find: Toyib, whose home range just happens to be the farthest from the village. “We know where they are all the time,” Birot, the LFP’s research coordinator, told me earlier in the day. “If you don’t have [collars] it’s very hard to find them. Especially because they are very quiet.” Soon we’re crossing into fields, heads bowed so as not to bump into the hard squash, and then beyond the fields altogether and — why not? — up the mountain. I find myself crawling vertically through an area I’m warned is home to lots and lots of wasps. Conservation scientists are crazy, I think, for the thousandth time in my career. Bonkers. They track Toyib into a stand of bamboo. Only he’s not alone. He’s with his new mate, who hasn’t been collared yet. Birot and I sit down on the slope under the stars, where I drink deep and wait for my heart to stop pounding, as we watch the trackers try to do something that looks to me like an exercise in futility: catch two slow lorises in 9-meter-tall (30–foot) bamboo. A loris’-eye-view of researchers. Photo by Andrew Walmsley/LFP. The Little Fireface Project — the local Sundanese word for the slow loris, muka geni, literally means “fire face” — is the brainchild of Anna Nekaris, the world’s leading expert on all things loris. She set up the organization in 2011 because she saw a need for long-term research on the species, especially since lorises that were confiscated from the illegal pet trade rarely survived once released back into the wild. “It was impossible to care for them or release them until we knew something about how they actually behave in the wild,” Nekaris explained. The LFP is the first long-term study of lorises, where scientists are gathering data on family groups over years. This research is not only helping scientists better understand the needs of slow lorises in the wild, but is revealing their dramatic and, even scandalous, family lives. “The Little Fireface Project is the only long-term behavioral ecological research site that I know of not just for Javan slow lorises but for any slow loris species,” said Mary Blair, the director of biodiversity informatics research at the American Museum of Natural History, who is not involved with the LFP. Blair credits the project with “major advances” in the understanding of slow lorises’ behavioral ecology, including the first in-depth look at slow loris venom. Sitting on the Little Fireface balcony overlooking a local mosque, Sharon McCabe, field site coordinator and primatologist, told me what was so fascinating about her subjects. “I think they’re incredible. They can move in a way that I’ve never seen any other primate move. It’s as if they have two separate spines they can rotate independently of one another … kind of like a horror movie. I love them for that … They’re so intimidating and powerful in their own right.” They’re also critically endangered: the Javan slow loris has been hammered by forest loss and habitat destruction, the illegal pet trade, and even killing for traditional medicine and black magic. With 145 million people, Java is the most densely populated of Indonesia’s major islands. The island has already lost its tigers and elephants; slow lorises could be next. But the LFP has been able to turn the situation around, at least for its local lorises.