The Philippine Tarsier
What has the tail of a rat, legs of a frog, sticky
fingers of a gecko, rotating head of an owl, ears of a bat and the face
of the baby?
The Philippine Tarsier, Tarsius syrichta, is a unique animal
found only in the central Philippines. The center of it's range is
the island of Bohol (map) but they are reportedly
found on the islands of Leyte and Mindanao as well. Several sister species
live on other southeast Asian islands (see below). According to the
IUCN "Redlist", the Philippine tarsiers are a threatened species (listed
as "Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent").
Sometimes called the world's smallest monkey,
it is neither a monkey or even the smallest primate. Being a primate,
it is part of the group of mammals that includes lemurs, monkeys, gorillas
and man. Scientists say the tarsier falls somewhere between the lemurs
and monkeys on the evolutionary scale. Tarsiers are certainly small
-- an adult can easily fit in the palm of a person's hand but the smallest
primate is the pygmy mouse lemur.
Being small, cute and furry, the tarsier would seem
to make an adorable pet. But they are shy and their nocturnal habits
don't suit them for captivity. I read on a couple of websites that a captive
tarsier committed "suicide" by banging its head on the bars of its cage
but this was more likely an animal dying from disease. Besides, a tarsier
cage would require fine-mesh screen or wire to keep it enclosed.
Tarsiers are probably more susceptible to the stress of captivity compared
to their larger cousins, the monkeys, and tarsiers aren't very long-lived.
I've seen captive tarsiers on several visits to Bohol. The Philippine
Tarsier Foundation runs a visitor center and habitat preserve about 14
km outside the provincial capital, Tagbilaran, near the town of Corella.
Unfortunately, when I drove out there, it was late in the afternoon and
the place was closed. Another place where they're kept for display
is in the town of Loboc where tourists go for the Loboc River cruises.
At one of the houses of the boatmen along the river, eight tarsiers were
kept in a hutch in the courtyard. The hutch was made dark with a
blanket cover but wasn't screened. The courtyard was fenced to keep
out cats but not completely enclosed so apparently the tarsiers don't wander
far from their home or try to escape. The lady of the house came
out and took out a few tarsiers from the dark corners of the hutch to let
us hold. Their fingers and toes have "suction" pads that give them
a tight grip on any surface. They'll sit quietly and not make a peep
but if they see their hutch -- BOING! -- they'll take a big hop, even if
it's 2 meters away, to get back to their hiding place.
I had mixed feelings about having the tarsiers on display like this since
it encourages keeping them as pets. I held them for less than a minute
before letting them back into their dark hideout. These critters
seemed well cared for and healthy. The oldest tarsier in the group
has been in captivity for eight years. The display does bring some
awareness to the animals and the keepers only ask for donations.
They also sell postcards and a few other souvenirs. The caretaker
said the tarsiers are easy to find in the nearby hills -- if you know where
If you'd like to see tarsiers, I suggest going
to the PTF sanctuary near Corella so that you will see them in their natural
habitat. Visit early in the morning -- open 8-5.
(Genus Tarsius) Any of three species of small primates, family Tarsiidae,
intermediate in form between lemurs and monkeys. Tarsiers are found on
several Southeast Asian islands including the Philippines, Celebes,
Borneo, and Sumatra. They have long legs, short bodies, and rounded
heads that can be rotated through 180º. Their faces are short, and
the eyes, their most striking feature, are large and goggling. The
ears are large, membranous, and almost constantly in motion. Tarsiers
are about 9-16 cm (3.5-6 inches) long, excluding the tail, which is about
twice that length. Their fur is thick, silky, and coloured gray to
Tarsiers cling vertically to trees and leap from trunk to trunk.
They are well adapted to an arboreal life by the great elongation
of their hindlimbs, by the expansion of the tips of the digits into
disklike, adhesive pads, and by possession of the long, thin, tufted tail
that serves as a balancer and prop. They are nocturnal animals and
prey mainly on insects. A single young is produced in a fairly well-developed
state, well furred and with eyes open; gestation may require about
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