In search of the wide-eyed poster boys of the Philippines

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.

Philippine 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.11753729_555669204588298_1726704210075257460_n





My chicken adobo

My first experience of food in the Philippines was standing on a stage looking at plates of intestines, pigs bladders and what looked like a large boiled egg.


This  ‘Fear Factor Challenge’ was part of the welcoming party for the exchange visit that I was on. The journey to the Philippines had been long; delayed due to fog and diverted to Singapore, what I really wanted to do was sleep not eat weird food (I was a super fussy eater as a child). Even the boiled egg turned out to be not as expected. Instead of a nice yellow yolk, it contained a developing embryo. Known as ‘balut’, I still haven’t summoned up enough courage to try this infamous Filipino delicacy. Needless to say, though I attempted to nibble a couple of the items, I failed the challenge.

Fortunately, my food experiences in the Philippines improved and had a lasting influence. There are things that I wish I could buy in the UK, like pili nuts; things that I can buy but that are now disappointing in their flavours, like mangoes and pineapples; and ways of cooking that I use, like adobo.

What is adobo? Wikipedia says: “Philippine Adobo (from Spanish adobar: “marinade,” “sauce” or “seasoning”) is a popular dish and cooking process in Philippine cuisine that involves meat, seafood, or vegetables marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic, which is browned in oil, and simmered in the marinade. It has sometimes been considered as the unofficial national dish in the Philippines. Although it has a name taken from Spanish, the cooking method is indigenous to the Philippines. Early Filipinos cooked their food normally by roasting, steaming or boiling methods. To keep it fresh longer, food was often cooked by immersion in vinegar and salt. Chinese traders introduced soy sauce which has replaced salt in the dish.”

It’s also super tasty. This is how I cook chicken adobo.


  • Chicken thighs
  • Soy sauce
  • Rice wine vinegar (half the amount of soy sauce)
  • Garlic – crushed
  • Black peppercorns
  • Bay leaves
  • Chilli (not essential but I like spicy food)

Combine the ingredients to make a marinade for the chicken. I usually marinade it for 24 hours; make the marinade one evening, then the next evening it’s all ready to cook when I get in from work.

To cook, put it all in a big, heavy-bottomed saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes. It’s so easy! When the chicken is cooked, I take it out and reduce the sauce to make it thick and luscious. Serve with steaming hot rice and coconutty spinach.


I cook a bit extra so I can have some for lunch the next day. It’s delicious on a soft tortilla wrap with spinach leaves and avocado.


Dugong coloring competition

diwa-coverGet the kids coloring to celebrate the forthcoming publication of Diwa the Dugong!

Simply print out and color one of the pictures of Diwa, share it with us (via my facebook page) or send to the C3 office in Busuanga (C3 Philippines, Inc., Salvacion, Busuanga, Palawan 5317 or send it through LBC Coron: C3 Philippines, Inc., Salavacion, Busuanga, Palawan, PICK-UP LBC Coron).

Don’t forget to tell us the name and age of the child who did the coloring (and your address if you post it). You can enter as many times as you like.

dugong-dollsOur favorite three entries will win a copy of Diwa the Dugong and a dugong doll handmade in Busuanga. We’ll contact the winners and send you the prizes – wherever you are in the Philippines.

Please send your entries in by Wednesday 14 December.

Happy coloring!

Click on the image to download a pdf.



Sleeping fruit bats

Sleeping golden-capped fruit bats look so snug with their wings wrapped around their bodies. Perhaps it’s because their wings are huge. They are the largest bats in the world and when their wings are stretched out… their wingspan is as wide as I am tall. Imagine a colony of thousands of them: the sound of their wings beating through the air as they take flight at dusk.

Golden-capped fruit bats

They are found only in the Philippines and in the 1920s colonies of 150,000 individuals were reported (probably of a mix of species). Their numbers have plummeted. The total population of golden-capped fruit bats is now estimated to be around one or two percent of what it was 200 years ago: possibly no more than 20,000 individuals.

As night falls, the bats leave their roosting sites in search of fruit to feed on. Figs are a favourite and they may fly as far as 30 kilometres in search of them. Fruit bats play an important role in the forest dispersing seeds and as pollinators.

Click on the image to download a golden-capped fruit bat colouring page:


Golden-capped fruit bat (Acerodon jubatus) further information: