Here at ARKive, we love a conservation success story, and we were delighted when ARKive media donor Dr. Milada Řeháková-Petrů got in touch to share with us the latest news on the Tarsius Project – a research and conservation organisation centred around the Philippine tarsier.
For those of you unfamiliar with this extraordinary looking animal, the Philippine tarsier is a nocturnal primate endemic to the Philippines. It is perhaps most notable for its enormous eyes (tarsiers have the biggest eyes relative to their body weight of any mammal), and its ability to rotate its head nearly 360°. Philippine tarsiers are agile acrobats of the forest, making vertical leaps from tree to tree with ease, spending their days sleeping amongst dense vegetation and setting out to hunt for their insect prey as the sun goes down.
Sadly, as a result of its cute, pixie like appearance, Milada explained that the Philippine tarsier is a common victim of the illegal pet trade, and that it is also often kept as a tourist attraction in very poor conditions. After conducting a survey of all the captive tarsier facilities on the main tourist route on Bohol Island, Milada tells us that the results were shocking. Kept in cramped conditions, many of the tarsiers were sick and dying, and being a nocturnal creature on display during the day, all were permanently stressed.
Even more worryingly, when the captive tarsiers died, their numbers were being replenished by individuals captured from the wild, and the growing demand saw tarsiers slowly disappearing from neighbouring forests. Fortunately Milada and her team were able to document what was occurring, and highlighted the tarsier’s plight by presenting their results to the Minister of the Environment Ramon Paje, the Undersecretary for Policy and Planning Demetrio Ignacio,Bohol governor Edgar Chatto, DENR officials and other authorities.
Fortunately, the authorities recognized the seriousness of the whole situation and it was decided that all the tarsiers from the facilities along the main tourist road would be transferred to more suitable conditions. Recently, a new naturally planted enclosure was opened in Loboc to provide the tarsiers with more space, and a less stressful environment. Most importantly, this step will hopefully decrease the demand for tarsiers poached from the wild.
Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher