Last year, during our family trip to the Philippines, a friend suggested we go to Bohol and visit an animal sanctuary. It sounded like it would be interesting, so we got in our car and off we went. We had no clue what to expect, we didn’t even know what type of animals would be at the sanctuary. When we arrived, we were led by a tour guide on a walking tour down a small trail. People in our group were taking pictures the whole time, but I had no clue what they were taking pictures of. Finally, 5 minutes after the tour started, I caught a glimpse of what everybody was taking pictures of. It was a tarsier, just a few feet from me, hanging on a branch.
Now you may be thinking, “How hard could it have been to see an animal that’s so close to you?” The answer is simple, the tarsier is one of the smallest primates in the world. How small exactly? Well, adult tarsiers only reach about 85-160 millimeters (3-6 in.) in height! They weigh about 80-160 grams (2.8-5.6 oz). Basically, they are about the size of a fist.
The type of tarsier we saw in the Philippines was the Philippine tarsier (duh) and it is endemic to the Philippines. This means that this particular type of tarsier has always been native to the Philippines and will not be found anywhere else. Tarsiers have gray or dark brown fur, and tails to help them keep balance. Tarsiers have long fingers with rounded pads, which makes it much easier for them to cling to trees and climb other surfaces.
Tarsiers are nocturnal animals, meaning they sleep during the day and are active at night. Tarsiers are able to see well at night due to their large eyes. Their eyes are fixed in their skull, and instead they are able to turn their head 180 degrees like an owl in order to have a full range of vision. Their main predators in the wild for tarsiers are feral cats and owls, as well as some other birds of prey. Their diet consists mainly of insects, but also includes some vertebrates such as small lizards.
Since about 1986, the Philippine has been considered endangered. The main threat to the survival of tarsiers is the destruction of its natural habitat, the rainforest. The Philippines has put into place legislation intended to preserve the tarsiers, but unfortunately that is very difficult to do. In the wild, tarsiers can live up to 24 years, but in captivity, they often only live 2-12 years. This is because tarsiers are particularly poor at dealing with captivity. Tarsiers are shy, nervous creatures and the stress of being captive (from cameras, people touching them, and being locked in a cage) can cause them to “commit suicide.” Essentially, the stress becomes too much for the tarsiers to handle and they hit their heads against objects. Because tarsiers has extremely thin skulls, this often results in death.
Visiting the sanctuary and getting to learn about this amazing creature was one of the highlights of my trip to the Philippines. Tarsiers are very interesting and it was especially cool to see a species that can only be found in the Philippines. I know not everybody is going to visit the Philippines in their lifetime, but if you happen to be anywhere in Southeast Asia, there is a good chance a species of tarsier lives there, and I would highly recommend going to see them.