Philippine Wildlife

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 to look.

     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 dark brown.

 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 six months.

More On-line Tarsier Info:

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