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  • Writer's pictureVien R. Guenther

Philippine Tarsier (Carlito syrichta)- Bohol, Philippines

Only five species of tarsier exist: four can be found in Indonesia and the species, Tarsius Syrichta, lives deep in the woods of Bohol Island in the Visayas. These small furry creatures can also be found in the islands of Samar, Leyte and Mindanao. Tarsiers (Tarsius Syrichta), derived from the word ‘tarsal’, measure 4 to 5 inches and are considered as the world’s second smallest primate. Its size is no longer than an adult man’s hand and it weighs only about 113 to 142 grams or four to five ounces.

To the locals, the tarsiers are called by various names, such as: “mamag”, “mago”, “maomag”, “magau”, “malmag”, and “magatilok-iok”. With its tail longer than its body, it has large brown eyes, hairless ears and long finger-like claws. It has gray fur and a nearly naked tail that is more often than not about 232 mm in length. The tails arc over their back when they hop on the ground apparently to balance themselves. The underside of the tail has dermal ridges such as those found on human hands and feet.

Philippine Tarsier

Tarsiers might be small with a brain that weighs about 4 grams, but they have unusual characteristics that other primates lack. Tarsiers' eyes are fixed to its head and to compensate it can rotate its head 180 degrees. Do its large eyes make you think of an alien? That's my first impression. Its eye sockets are larger than its brain and stomach.

Tarsiers have sharp teeth, enabling them to catch their prey easier. They can also leap even up to 10 feet and agilely maneuver themselves from tree to tree. They are nocturnal creatures, like owls – sleeping during daytime yet very active at night. They hide in hollows close to the ground; they hunt and feed mainly on fruits and insects such as cockroaches, crickets, and sometimes small lizards.

Tarsiers in captivity are quite tame. They are most often found huddled together with their tails intertwined. One can fondle them and allow them to run up ones arms to the shoulders and back. Quite ticklish, yes, but they’re so cute! They easily get scared, though, and will scurry back to the shrubs and hide. In captivity, the tarsiers will eat live shrimp and fish in a bowl of water.

Before, the tarsiers had inhabited rain forests worldwide but have dwindled and now exist only in some islands of the Philippines, in Borneo and Indonesia. In the 1960’s, they were a common sight in the southern part of Bohol, but now only an estimated 1,000 exists in the wild. They were once protected by the humid rain forests and mist-shrouded hills but were affected by the destruction of their natural habitat thru both legal and illegal logging and slash-and-burn agricultural practices that greatly diminished the forested areas. They were also victims to poachers.

The Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary is a tarsier sanctuary covering an area of 167 hectares within the three municipalities of Corella, Sikatuna and Loboc. This timberland area is currently under the administration of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and is part of its Social Forestry Project. The Sanctuary starts at Barangay Canapnapan in Corella, Bohol.


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