a tarsier in Linan
They have become one of Philippine’s tourism mascots, figuring in posters and logos including the most recent Department of Tourism’s (failed) “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” logo. Although they are found in various places in the archipelago (central eastern and southern provinces), most people associate the tarsier with the island of Bohol.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that these endangered primates are thriving practically right in my province’s backyard.
There had been reported sightings of tarsiers in the forested areas of South Cotabato, like the areas near Mt. Parker or the settlements at the foot of Mt. Matutum. But I guess nobody really gave that much attention until people started noticing images of tarsiers on souvenir t-shirts from Bohol. Their first reaction: “So they are called tarsiers… we’ve seen those in the hills near our village”. The B’laans call tarsiers “tukay mal” or “small monkey”.
It was just recently (the project started July 2010) that the provincial government of South Cotabato started seriously advocating the protection of their habitat. According to the local officials, it was hard at first to convince the locals to stop their slash and burn practices. Charcoal-making is also the most common source of livelihood – that meant cutting trees. Eventually people realized the importance of the wildlife around them. They stopped their destructive practices and the forest rebounded. Now there is a healthy population of tarsiers near Bagong Silang – a small B’laan village in Brgy. Linan in Tupi. Linan, located at the foot of Mt. Matutum, is now known as the (unofficial) “tarsier sanctuary” of South Cotabato.
built for jumping
In Bohol they have developed a semi-wild enclosure to keep the tarsiers in, but tarsiers in Linan, which could be another subspecies, are wild. The first time I went to Linan I was not able to see one. Contrary to what some think, tarsiers are fast – they can jump several meters from tree to tree (thanks to their very long hind legs – they have long tarsus bones, hence their name) and they hide in burrows or holes/cracks on trees/rocks. Catching one in the wild isn't easy.
I was finally able to see a Linan tarsier few weeks ago when my family and several friends went there to distribute school supplies to the B’laan kids (courtesy of Black Pencil Project). We “borrowed” one from the nearby forest and release it again after we took photos. There are days when you can find the tarsiers just near the perimeter of the village.
sharp teeth - perfect for munching on crickets
The tarsier looked timid, but it’s actually a predator, feeding on insects primarily and is known to hunt small birds and lizards too. They are nocturnal but some could also be active during the day. Philippine tarsiers are said to be territorial and usually sleep and hunt alone.
Some villagers had once tried keeping them as pets, but they are known to kill themselves in captivity. Now they are aware of how precious these tarsiers are and how they need to be protected. A lot of work still needs to be done if the local government wants a sustainable conservation program just like what they are doing in the Philippine Tarsier sanctuary in Corella in Bohol.
Aside from tarsiers, forested area at the foot of Mt. Matutum is also home to squirrels, flying foxes, civets, and several species of eagles.