TARSIERS, FLYING LEMURS AND MAMMALS IN THE PHILIPPINES

MAMMALS IN THE PHILIPPINES

Half the endemic species of mammal in the Philippines are endangered. The cloud rat of the Philippines is on the brink of extinction. Tender, meaty and size of a house cat, it has been hunted to the point of extinction throughout the Visayas. The Isarog shrew-rat has only been observed twice. Found in the mossy rain forests around Mount Isarog in southern Luzon, it survives almost exclusively on earth worms and resembles a miniature kangaroo. In 1997 one of two new species discovered in the Philippines was the Panay cloudrunner, a nocturnal squirrel-like mammal.

The largest Philippine wild animal, the tamaraw, is a species of buffalo that is similar to the carabao (water buffalo). Also known as the dwarf water buffalo, it was once found throughout the Philippines but now is found only on the island of Mindoro. Water buffalo are called carabao in the Philippines and are regarded as the national animal there.

The world's smallest hoofed mammal—the Philippine mouse deer— is found south of Palawan on Balabac Island. Locally known as Pilandok (Tragalus nigricans), this ruminant stands only about 40 centimeters at the shoulder level.

The Palawan bearcat is neither a bear nor a cat. Known in Southeast Asia as binturong, the bearcat is a species of its own, with population in the forests of Palawan, Borneo, Burma and Vietnam. It belongs to the family of Viverridae (civets and mongooses). The Palawan bearcat has a long body and a pointed face leading to the nose. Its head and body measure 61 to 96 centimeters in combined length while its tail is almost as long. It weighs 9 to 14 kilograms and lives up to 20 years.

Calamian Deer are a unique species found on the Calamian Islands, north of Palawan, and nowhere else. Scientists referred to this hog deer in the islands as Calamian deer in order to distinguish them from other hog deer in the world. An ordinary Calamian deer measures 105 to 115 centimeters in length and 60 to 65 centimeters high at the shoulder and weighs about 36 to 50 kilograms. It is said to have longer and darker legs, compared with other hog deer.

The only species of monkey and macaque found in the Philippines are crab-eating macaquea and the Philippine long-tailed macaque.

Flying Foxes in the Philippines

The golden-crowned flying fox found in the Philippines may be the world’s heaviest bat. It weighs up to one and a half kilograms and has a wingspan of 5.5 feet. It has blond hair and feeds primarily fruit and leafs. The animals play an important role in dispersing seeds.

The Aeta Negritos regard flying fox as a delicacy.When preparing the one kilogram bats Negritos first singe the hair, which also gets rid of a musky oil that permeates the hair, and then they roast the animals whole on a stick. Negritos like the intestines. One writer who tried a breast quarter said it "proved delicious—lean, dry and flavorful." Flying foxes in the Philippines are easily disturbed. Negritos approach them with banana leaves on their heads which seems to make the animals feel relaxed.

See Flying Foxes factsanddetails.com

Flying Lemurs in the Philippines

The flying Lemur is an interesting and unique creatures that lives in the Philippines and can glide like a flying squirrel up to 100 meters in a single leap. In Mindanao, people call it "kagwang". Elsewhere it is known as colugo or the flying lemur. The colugo looks like a cross between a bat and flying squirrel. It is not closely related to the true lemurs of Madagascar but makes up its unique order: Dermoptera, or “skin wings.” They have the most extensive flight membranes of any mammalian glider, stretching from its head its tail and embracing all four limbs. In flight they look like kites. Mothers almost always flying with their babies with them. By contrast squirrel mother usually leave their young behind in a tree cavity.

David Attenborough wrote: “The most accomplished glider of all is another Southeast Asian animal, the colugo. It is about the size of a cat. Its gliding membrane stretches not from wrists to ankles, but to the tips of both fingers and toes, half way up the neck and to the very end of its tail. With the help of this, it can cover 70 yards in a single graceful and silent glide. It is. From all accounts, exclusively vegetarian. The fur on the upper side of its membrane is particularly handsome, dappled with cream or brown blotches each ringed with black that conceal it very effectively as it nestles in the center of palm trees or hangs below a branch with all its feet placed close together. Its floppy gliding membranes is so big, and its slender legs so extremely adapted to serve as lightweight struts for that membrane, that on the ground it is virtually helpless.

“But what kind of animal is it? Its teeth, that in most mammals normally provide valuable clues in establishing affiliations, are of no help for they are quite unlike those of any other living creature. The incisors of the top jaw are placed at the sides leaving a gap at the front ad the second of them has, uniquely among mammals, two roots. The incisors on the lower jaw are even stranger. They project not up but forward and are toothed like combs, Whether the colugo uses these to groom itself or to help it feed in some way is still not known. But although no living animal has teeth that are comparable, fossil skulls with very similar detrition are not uncommon in shales and sandstones laid down some 60-77 million years ago in North America. It seems that the colugo is the last living representative of a very ancient and successful; group that appeared just as mammals were beginning their expansion. “

Philippine Tarsier

The Philippine tarsier is the world’s second smallest primate after the pygmy tarsier in Sulawesi. Found on the Philippines island of Bohol, the Philippine tarsier has a long tail and large eyes and is about the size of a kitten. They are nocturnal creatures and live primarily in second growth forests. The Philippine tarsier is seriously endangered. They are hunted and sold as pets. Their habitat is shrinking quickly. The Philippine Tarsier Foundation has bred and released several dozen tarsiers.

The Philippine tarsier is just 10 centimetres (four inches) tall, weighing 120 grams (four ounces), with a rat-like tail, bat-like ears, and giant eyeballs, each one as big as its brain. The tarsier is nocturnal, lives in the forest, and is highly sensitive to daylight, noise and human contact. [Source: AFP, December 12, 2011]

Different species of tarsier are found in the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. And populations in all these countries are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “decreasing”. The Philippine tarsier, or tarsius syrichta, is categorized as “near threatened”, while species in other countries are already “vulnerable”, “endangered” and “critically endangered”. There are only several hundred tarsiers left living in the wild on Bohol, according to the Philippine Tarsier Foundation.

See Tarsiers factsanddetails.com

Suicidal Philippine Tarsiers and Tarsier Tourism

AFP reported from Bohol: “The tiny creature turns its head slowly through 180 degrees and stares, boggle-eyed as another group of noisy tourists takes its picture from just inches away. Its strange appearance is obvious, but what these tourists may not realize is that their very presence is putting the animal at risk. People go near and they’re loud, or make a picture with the flash, or they’re touching them” and that stresses them out. [Source: AFP, December 12, 2011 \=\]

“According to conservationists, if a tarsier becomes stressed it will kill itself by bashing its head against a tree or the bars of its cage. “Most of those tarsiers, when they become stressed they commit suicide," says Carlito Pizarras, known as The Tarsier Man. "They don’t breathe and slowly die. If you put them in a cage they want to go out. That’s why they bump their heads on the cage, and it will crack because the cranium is so thin." \=\

At one tourist place on Bohol, “a guide calls to a group of tourists and points to a tarsier clinging to a tree branch. "Now there you are, I think you are hiding," he says in a loud sing-song voice, before encouraging the group to move closer and take a picture. A sign warns visitors not to use their camera flash, and the guide tells them not to touch. But the tarsiers here live in a thinly forested area, with light seeping through. Their ultra-sensitive eyes are murky, and their movements slow. At this time of day they should be asleep. \=\

“"Before we put them in our hands," the guide says. "But if you touch, they die. They are so very sensitive." These ones have been “domesticated” using cages, he adds, and now they are “tame”. "Try to go closer," the guide says. "They won’t bite." Pizarras argues that tarsiers in the wild are very defensive and do bite — and that these docile animals are not tame but weak.” \=\

Threatened, Stressed Out and Suicidal Philippine Tarsiers

"The tarsier is a superstar but unfortunately it’s suffering because of its fame," Joannie Mary Cabillo, the programme manager at the Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary, told AFP. "The government is backing up but not that much. We have a presidential proclamation and laws to protect the tarsiers but unfortunately nobody is sanctioned." The government declared the tarsier a “specially protected” species in 1997, outlawing hunting of the animal, and effectively banning restaurants and souvenir shops from keeping them on display. [Source: AFP, December 12, 2011 \=\]

Theresa Mundita Lim, director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), told AFP the indications are that the tarsier population has gone up since then. But she acknowledges that tarsier tourism is a double-edged sword, and more needs to be done to protect the animal. "We can still do more through education and stricter enforcement," she says. "There has to be stricter monitoring, also for tourists. "It’s not just up to us. We issue the policy but the policy needs to be implemented at the field level." \=\

The DENR’s tarsier conservation programme has an annual budget of five million pesos ($115,000). "It’s not enough. But we also rely on social mobilisation," says Lim, adding that it is sometimes concerned tourists who report centres where the tarsiers are not being well treated. People caught breaching the wildlife act can be fined or even jailed, but tarsiers are still found on the black market in Manila for sale as pets, fetching about 6,000 pesos each. \=\

Philippine’s Tarsier Man and His Tarsier Sanctuary

Carlito Pizarras is the field manager at the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary in Corella on the island of Bohol, one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. Unlike other tarsier attractions on the island, visitors at the sanctuary are allowed to look, but not to get too close or touch the animals. [Source: AFP, December 12, 2011 \=\]

AFP reported: “As a child Pizarras would hunt tarsiers with his father, a taxidermist. The stuffed creatures were best sellers, fetching 250 pesos ($6) a time. Aged 12, he decided to start keeping the animals in captivity, venturing into the forests at night to collect crickets for them to eat and learn about their habits in the wild. He realized how sensitive they were to human contact. By the time he reached his 20s the tarsiers living around his village were becoming scarce. Hunting, habitat destruction and predatory house cats were causing numbers to dwindle. \=\

“Pizarras knew he was also partly to blame, so he stopped hunting them and became a pioneer of conservation. The tarsier became Bohol’s logo, and a big tourist draw. And the Tarsier Man, once derided for his strange behaviour, became a national treasure, even presenting a pair of the animals to Britain’s Prince Charles in 1997. But Pizarras, now in his 50s, believes not enough is being done to protect the creature. It may be a tourist symbol, but more should be done to make it a symbol of conservation. "In other areas they are still putting tarsiers in cages for the tourists," he says. "I don’t know why but the government gives them permits." \=\

“Pizarras says most of these live in the 167 hectares (413 acres) of forest around the sanctuary — elsewhere it is much harder for them to thrive. "In the 70s the population was going down so I decided on my own to stop hunting tarsiers," he says. "My father got angry with me because this was our means of livelihood. "But I said maybe someday my kids and my grandchildren can see them no more, and he understood." \=\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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