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The Philippine Tarsier – a Player on the Pipes of Pan
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.