The Tarsier Is More Sensitive Than You Know
Tarsiers are highly introverted. A la Noli Me Tangere, follow the golden rule: Touch. them. not.
There are many different species of the tarsier. But one, in particular, the Philippine Tarsier—as the name might give away—is endemic to the country. According to the International Primate Protection League, “It has been estimated that there are only between 5,000 and 10,000 Philippine Tarsiers left in the whole world and that number is currently believed to be falling.”
Despite its dwindling population, tourists often come into contact with the tiny creature, mostly because of its cultural and aesthetic (ie. cute) value. Though the tarsier has yet to be categorized an endangered animal—it has a near threatened status—it is still at risk. And the regular traveler can do a lot of damage if uninformed.
Here are some of the tarsier’s personality quirks:
Tarsiers are shy, introverted creatures. Keep your hands to yourself. Just coming in close contact with them can cause them stress. In some tourist sites, handlers allow tourists to hold the small creature; sometimes even placing multiple tarsiers on their body. For the small creatures, the activity is tortuous.
They have suicidal tendencies. When tarsiers feel extreme stress or discomfort, they attempt to commit suicide, sometimes by banging their heads on cages—if they have been caged—or branches. This is why the rest of the items on this list are so important; they are usually the triggers.
They are nocturnal animals, which means that putting tarsiers on display during the day isn’t just illegal—it’s cruel. They are made to fight against their regular sleeping pattern. Tarsiers are active at night and should be asleep in daytime.
They are sensitive to daylight. Even more so to flash photography.
They like their own space. Tarsiers should not be caged, as they are solitary animals, and they require at least a hectare of space each.
Can I still see a tarsier in a safe space?
In 1997, Proclamation no. 1030 declared the Philippine tarsier a specially protected faunal species, effectively banning the “hunting, killing, wounding, taking away or possession of the Philippine tarsier.” This also means that any activities or programs that possess tarsiers without educational, scientific, or conservation-centered research purposes are technically illegal.
But some sites that violate these rules still exist, and they prey on the tourists who don’t know any better. There are even anecdotal reports that tarsiers are still sold in the pet markets of Manila.
There are some ethical sanctuaries that allow you see the tarsier in its natural habitat; the Philippine Tarsier Foundation, for example, gives guided tours that allow you to see them from a distance, so as not to disturb their sanctuary. They allot the appropriate hectare of space per tarsier, and they are located within a forest in Bohol.