Philippine Tarsiers, the Suicidal Primates
What are tarsiers?
Tarsiers are big-eyed, ancient nocturnal mammal who had been around for as long as 45 million years. Scientists regard the tarsier as the oldest mammal inhabiting the earth.
They are characterized by large wide eyes, long tail, long fingers and toes tipped with soft disk-like pads. Tarsiers' eyeballs are as large as its entire brain, each eyeball measuring 16 mm in diameter. The tail is slender, 20 to 25 cm in length and is longer than the body which measures 10 to 15 cm. On average, it weighs only about 120 grams.
The name tarsier comes from their having long hind limbs with extremely long tarsus bones. They have ten long fingers, with the third finger as long as the upper arm. The fingers and toes have nails except for the 2nd and 3rd toes which has claws instead. These claws are used for grooming.
Tarsiers are the only existing entirely carnivorous primate. They eat only live preys. Their diet consists mostly of insects, small fishes, young birds, lizards, and bats. Ten to 12 grams of food is consumed in one day. The hind legs are built for jumping from tree to tree and they are so agile they can even catch birds in motion. It can jump backwards with precision and has the unique ability of being able to turn its head 180 degrees just like an owl.
The Philippine tarsier is extremely shy and nervous. Despite its cuddly looks it does not like to be touched. Tarsiers in captivity are observed to commit suicide and seldom reach maturity. When caged, they smashed their head against hard objects. Having soft skulls, these lovely creatures can easily kill themselves.
Stressful and noisy environment also triggers suicidal tendencies in these small animals. In the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary, where a small area is designated for public viewing of these small creatures in their natural habitat, the viewers are not allowed to take pictures with the camera's flash on. Blinding lights and loud talking are prohibited since these could stress out the shy mammals.
A 3-year old tarsier in his small abode, Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary, Bohol
Status of the Philippine Tarsiers
The status of Philippine tarsier is categorized as "lower risk, conservation dependent". This simply means that it is not yet critically endangered but could qualify for such category for the next five years if programs to protect the species are not continued.
Deep in the secondary growth forest in the island of Bohol, a 167-hectare sanctuary for tarsiers was built in 1997, with the objective of protecting the Philippine tarsier and its habitat from extinction. Numerous sightings of tarsiers within and around the sanctuary confirms that the plan had been successful.
Philippine tarsiers were a common sight in some parts of the Visayas islands and Mindanao until the 1960s. Since then, the number has decreased to an estimated 1000 in the wild.
Years of commercial logging, slash-and-burn farming, and illegal logging have greatly decreased the forest area of Bohol, Mindanao, Samar, and Leyte. These are the Philippine islands where tarsiers are to be found. Tarsiers have a home range of 1 to 2 hectares, with the male tarsier covering a bigger range. They are solitary animals. They cross paths only during nightfall when hunting for preys.
Tarsiers are also found in Borneo, Sumatra, and Sulawesi. These tarsiers are relative of the Philippine specie, differing mostly on fur color and size.
The Philippine tarsier can only get pregnant once a year. The gestation period is 6 months and they can only have one baby per pregnancy. The female's estrous cycle lasts 25 to 28 days. Mating season begins April to May. The male "plugs" the female's vagina after intercourse, similar to putting a chastity belt.
A newborn tarsier can already cling to branches and is carried around by the mother using her mouth. In one month or less, the young tarsier can already leap from branches to branches, in two months, it is weaned from its mother.
Discovering the Tarsier
- Philippine tarsier - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Bohol Tarsiers - Worlds Smallest Primate
Bohol tarsiers measures 4 to 5 inches and is considered as the worlds smallest primate. Its size is no longer than an adult mans hand and weigh only about 113 to 142 grams or four to five ounces.