The air was thick with humidity. We followed the trail that snaked through the dense tropical foliage, pushing past thick molave leaves as we ventured further.
“Shhh…” Our 18-year-old park ranger, Ijie, stopped us in our tracks and pointed at a branch hanging above our heads. There they were – two furry critters hugging the branch tightly with their frog-like web feet, staring curiously at us with their saucer-wide eyes. Ijie giggled, “their eyes are actually bigger than their brains”.
On Bohol island, we were in search of the maomag or Philippine tarsier. These palm-sized primates are rare endemic creatures found almost exclusively on Bohol in the Central Visayas of the Philippines. The Tarsier Sanctuary, home to over 1,000 tarsiers, is the best place to see them. Only one hectare out of the 100 hectare sanctuary is opened to visitors – that morning, Ijie led us through the visitor area, her eyes scouring the tree branches overhead for signs of the animal. Just five minutes into our walk and she had already spotted two of the resident tarsiers hiding beneath a leaf.
Tarsiers have existed for almost 45 million years and now face the danger of extinction with the disappearance of their natural habitat.
No touching, no flash photography and no shaking of trees – these were the three rules we had to adhere to in the tarsier sanctuary. “Tarsiers are nocturnal animals, we should not disturb their sleep,” explained Ijie. While walking through the sanctuary, we made sure to keep as quiet as possible. We also learned later that tarsiers are territorial animals, they get easily stressed once outside of their natural environment and often commit suicide as a result.
Tarsiers have existed for almost 45 million years and now face the danger of extinction with the disappearance of their natural habitat. Ijie explained that the Philippine Tarsier Foundation was set up to protect and conserve the endemic animal and that only one man in the world knows how to breed tarsiers.
Mr Lito Pisarras, a fit and down-to-earth native, is a pioneer tarsier conservationist and has contributed largely to the conservation projects for the past few decades. Now the field manager of PTF, he monitors the animals on a daily basis and ensures that the sanctuary maintains the population of 1,000 over tarsiers. When asked how he’d developed a strong connection with the tarsiers, he said, “I grew up in the jungles of Bohol and lived amongst these animals for decades, they are like family to me.”
With such so much conservation efforts put into protecting this Philippine treasure, I’m sure the tarsiers will continue to live on for many years ahead.
This trip was made possible by Department of Tourism Philippines. Special thanks to good friend and local expert Ivan Henares for organizing this. All opinions expressed here are entirely my own. Read more about our trip through the Philippines here or follow our journey on Twitter using the #WJAsia hashtag.