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The Philippine Tarsier – a Player on the Pipes of Pan

Updated on December 3, 2013
grand old lady profile image

Mona writes a column for Enrich Magazine which is distributed in five countries. She is interested in learning as she writes.

I pretend to catch a tarsier. In truth, we aren't allowed to touch them, as they are very sensitive creatures.
I pretend to catch a tarsier. In truth, we aren't allowed to touch them, as they are very sensitive creatures. | Source
It was late afternoon, so this tarsier was probably still sleepy.
It was late afternoon, so this tarsier was probably still sleepy. | Source
This one enjoys the shade of a leaf:)
This one enjoys the shade of a leaf:) | Source

The tarsier, a suborder of primates, was once believed to be the smallest monkey in the world. But these days they say the smallest primate in the world is the pygmy mouse lemur from Madagascar.

No matter. The Tarsier species is 45 million years old. Old or young, it’s special. It was my dream to see the tarsiers. You can’t be Filipino and NOT see them.

There are a number of species of tarsiers, but the species in the Philippines is the tarsier C. syrichta, the latter of which means "the player of the pipes of pan." Some species live with only one mate and are very social, but the Philippine species may have one male with several females and they are semi-social.

The Eco-Friendly Corella Zoo

We were lucky to visit the eco friendly Tarsier zoo in Tagbilaran City, Bohol. The habitat revolves around the lifestyle and needs of the tarsier. It’s actually a mountain trail, and before you enter it, every group is cautioned on the rules of the zoo.

First, the tarsiers don’t like loud sounds, so it was quite refreshing to walk through a quiet space where humans spoke in whispers out of consideration for these gentle creatures.

Second, tarsiers don’t like flashbulbs. There were many volunteers who were willing to check your cameras to see if the flash was on, and if you wish, take photos of the tarsiers for you.

Third, we were told not to touch the tarsiers. They are very nervous creatures and in captivity have been known to commit suicide by banging their heads against the cage or a rock.

The mountain trail we went around was not caged in. The volunteers knew where each tarsier was located. They explained to us that the Philippine tarsier is territorial. It will guard the borders of its space and mark its home with its scent. At night it goes around the mountain in search of food, then returns to its home.

The tarsier zoo actually is 7.4 hectares in size, so it’s very comfortable for the tarsiers. Aside from their gentle nature, tarsiers have big, cute eyes. The eye sockets are bigger than its brain cage and its stomach, each.

Qualities of the Tarsier

Like an owl, the tarsier rotates its head 180 degrees because it can’t move its eyeballs. But its sense of smell, hearing and sight is immense. It can leap forward or backward, and a single leap is 40 times its size.

I would have loved to hear the sound a tarsier makes. They have different sounds. One is a loud, shrill call. Another is like the trill of a bird. When conversing they chirp like locusts. Some species have vocal “duets,” but not the Philippine Tarsier. And there is a special mating call that the women have.

Tarsiers seem to be aware that they have different species. They respond to tape recordings of the sounds of different species. When they are responding to a sound the ears flare up, like Yoda’s, only slightly rounder. When they are no longer interested the ears curl like a cornflake.

It’s easy to fall in love with a Tarsier once you see it. I was glad that we went to an eco friendly zoo. Some places keep these lovely little ones in cages and feed them cockroaches on sticks which is very unnatural.

In the zoo we went to there was plenty of space for a tarsier to do its own hunting. Also, there were many volunteers at every area not just to fill you in on facts about the tarsiers but also to guard the creatures so that they won’t be touched.

If you decide to visit a tarsier zoo, please make sure that it is REALLY tarsier friendly. After all, with 45 million years behind them, these sweet and peaceful creatures deserve some respect.

Watch how Tarsier's ears react to different sounds

Pure Nature Specials : Tarsier Primate - The Littlest Alien

Below is one of the most informative documentaries on the tarsier that I've seen so far. It is highly informative and insightful, and may likely make you a tarsier lover.

An Entertaining and Informative Documentary on Tarsiers


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    • grand old lady profile imageAUTHOR

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Philippines

      Hi DDE, in the Philippines it is very doable. However, if you don't have a guide to show them to you in the wild, I'd suggest the Corrella zoo which is so eco friendly. It is so peaceful in Corrella, which is the Tarsier zoo. You won't think it's a zoo at all as it's really a huge mountain. You won't see cages or anything. We were all coached to be very quiet, not use flash in our cameras, and not to touch the tarsiers. As a result, the entirre experience was so peaceful and heartwarming. These tender creatures are lovely and although I would have enjoyed holding one, I'm glad I didn't since they are so sensitive and tender.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      The Tarsier has such large eyes and is a unique animal so beautifully presented. I like the photo and would love to one day see one in the wild.

    • grand old lady profile imageAUTHOR

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      5 years ago from Philippines

      It seems during the earthquake that preceded the typhoon, the tarsiers were traumatized and stayed on the ground. During the actual typhoon they looked for crevices under the ground to hide in. They are very sensitive and sometimes commit suicide from depression by banging their heads against the wall. I love them because they are so gente...

      Here's a news report that includes the tarsiers:

    • Borsia profile image


      5 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      Hopefully they have weather the typhoon OK I know Bohol got hit pretty hard with much deforestation

    • JPSO138 profile image


      5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines, International

      I sure hope they are fine since Bohol suffered a lot during the earthquake.

    • grand old lady profile imageAUTHOR

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      5 years ago from Philippines

      Oh, I had wondered about the tarsiers after the typhoon. You are so lucky to be near them. I felt they were so calm, loving and sweet. Would you know how they are now?Did they have a sensibility that a natural disaster was on the way beforehand?

    • JPSO138 profile image


      5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines, International

      I have visited Bohol and was able to see the tarsier first hand. They are indeed small and delicate creatures. Very amazing indeed. Our place is just a 2 hour boat ride from Bohol.

    • grand old lady profile imageAUTHOR

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      5 years ago from Philippines

      Hello Larry Fields and Borsia:) We visited the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary. It was part of a tour that we took from the Amarela Resort in Panglao. It was quite lovely:)

      Thank you Larry for sharing this. There are some zoos you must avoid where the tarsiers are kept in cages and you feed them cockroaches on sticks. they even let you hold them. It's not good for the Tarsier.

      Borsia, they are in Bohol. It's a plane ride away, but if you want a really, nice vacation in a beach resort I suggest Panglao. They are developing it so it's not saturated like Boracay and they have white sands. We stayed in Amarela which has its own beach and an amazing library collection. They supplied a van to take us to the Tarsier Sanctuary.

      The Tarsier can fit in the palm of your hand, they have very long tails.

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 

      5 years ago from Northern California

      Hi Mona,

      My sister-in-law comes from the Philippines. If I ever visit your country, I'll definitely take in the Tarsier zoo. Beautiful animals! Voted up and shared.

    • Borsia profile image


      5 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      Interesting. Where is the PH can they be found?

      I live in Tagaytay, on Luzon south on Manila.

      I have only seen monkeys 1 time in the year I've lived here. I have no idea what kind of monkey they were average size and hanging out at the outskirts of the area of Mendez crossing, along the Tagaytay / Nasugbu highway.


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