As the metal gate was quietly shut behind me, I knew I was entering somewhere special. A butterfly lazily fluttered by as I followed a guide along a narrow trail into the forest. Birds were singing loudly, tempting me to stop and look for them. But the birds and the butterflies were sidelined today as I peered between branches and leaves searching for a small brown animal with big eyes: the poster boy of Philippines wildlife.
I’d seen photos of tarsiers on countless tourism websites but photos can miss the living essence of an animal. As I peered through the leaves, I thought I spotted something but no, it was just a dead leaf. Then, with the help of the guide, we spotted something sitting high on a branch. Peering back at me with half-closed sleepy eyes was a tarsier.
Tarsiers are remarkable little animals. They have the largest eyes relative to their body weight of any mammal and, though their eyes are fixed in their sockets, they can rotate their head nearly 360 degrees. This gives them incredible abilities to spot their insect prey in the forest.
Their name comes from another unique adaptation: the tarsal bones in their feet are elongated giving them the longest hindlimbs of any mammal relative to body length. These extra-long legs make them exceptionally good at leaping. They can jump 40 times their own body length in a single leap.
However, none of the tarsiers I saw were leaping. Tarsiers are nocturnal; sleeping during the day and waking at sundown to go in search of their prey. They are shy, nervous creatures and it’s critical to keep disturbance to a minimum. At the Tarsier Sanctuary, visitors are accompanied by a guide to ensure that the tarsiers aren’t disturbed.
I visited the Philippine Tarsier Foundation’s sanctuary in Corella on Bohol. The tarsiers are in a large enclosure of natural habitat. It’s enclosed to keep out predators, such as cats, but the tarsiers themselves are free to leave in search of food.
Whilst at the sanctuary I was lucky enough to meet Carlito Pizarras. Known as the tarsier man, he was instrumental in setting up the tarsier conservation programme and has devoted his life to the animals. His work was recognised in 2010 when the Philippine tarsier was re-named Carlito syrichta, the only member of the genus Carlito.
Find out about visiting the sanctuary on the Philippine Tarsier Foundation website.
The wildlife of the Philippines inspires me to draw and write picture book stories. This sleepy little tarsier is called Tala, she’s resting after a big adventure, hopefully one day I’ll be able to share her adventure with you.