Saving Bohol’s Living Jewel

FOSSILIZED records of the forebears of the Philippine tarsier (Tarsius Syrichta) date back to the Eocene period some 45 million years ago. Although it exhibits some of the characteristics of the lemur and the monkey, the tarsier belongs to a more primitive suborder called PROSIMII or PROSIMIAN. Commonly described as “the world’s smallest monkey,” it is the oldest land species in continuous existence in the island province of Bohol.

Unique to the tarsier, whose body length measures no more than 5.5 inches, are huge luminous brown eyes whish occupy almost a third of its face. These eyes, perfect for nocturnal hunting of crickets and other insects, give it a cuddly look irresistible to tourists and collectors who, for years have succeeded in smuggling the species home as pets.

“In the 1960s, tarsiers were a comon sight on the highway that cuts through the forested hils of Corella town,” recalls Carlito Pizarras, gamekeeper of the Philippine Tarsier Foundation Inc. (PTFI), a nongovernment organization now spreading a campaign to save the endangered species.

“They fell prey only to their natural enemies, such as civets and snakes. But habitat destruction, unabated hunting and illegal trade have reduced their population to near extinction.
Pizarras estimates that only about 1,000 tarsiers are left today in the wilds of Corella.

A hunter turned conservationist, he claims to have succeeded in the breeding 20 tarsiers in captivity.

The most famous of his brood is tarsier Datu Charles, which was symbolically presented to Britain’s Prince Charles by First Lady Amelita Ramos when the heir to the British throne visited Manila after Hongkong was handed over to China.

According to Pizarras, when the moon waned in January and the snakes had had their fill, seven-month-old Datu Charles would have been set free in its new home, the 134-hectare Tarsier Sanctuary which straddles the munincipalities of Corella and Sikatuna.

The sanctuary is a forested area that is largely unihabited. Located 18 kilometers northeast of Tagbilaran City, it sits on what is reputedly the biggest acquifer in the whole of Central Visayas.

The second-growth forest is thick with vegetation favorable to the tarsier, clusters of hard wood and bamboo, and patches of tall grass and bushes profuse with insects.

With numerous sightings of the tarsier within and around the site, it appers to be most suitable home for the living jewel of Bohol. The site is isolated from barangays which host domestic cats.

Pizarras says cats have been added to the list of predatory animals that threaten the tarsier, which was declared a specially protected species in 1991 by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer Febuary 1, 1998