Tarsiers in Tagum

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TAGUM CITY — Considered to be the world’s smallest primate, tarsiers are usually found in the province of Bohol in the Visayas region.

Tarsiers in Tagum
A tarsier inside the Tagum Botanical Park moments after it was released on April 21, 2016. This tarsier was the third one released in the park in the past few months. — Leo Timogan/CIO Tagum

A tarsier is usually between four to seven inches tall and only weighs 70 to 165 grams. Living on a diet of insects, the tarsier is mostly active at night. With very acute night vision, ears that can move in the direction of any noise, and heads capable  of turning 180 degrees, they are good night hunters.

The town of Corella in Bohol hosts a conservation sanctuary that draws thousands of tourists who want a glimpse of the elusive and endangered tarsier. Tarsiers are in the International Union for Conservation of Nature list of threatened species, with the organization stating that the animal’s forest habitat is being destroyed by logging, mining, agriculture and other human activities.

Interestingly, tarsiers are not only found in Bohol. Accounts by conservationists point out that places in Mindanao like South Cotabato, Basilan and Dinagat Islands are also considered home by tarsiers.

In the Davao Region for example, the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) confirmed that colonies of tarsiers are found in Barangay Bobon in Mati City, Davao Oriental, and in Barangay Suaon in nearby Kapalong town in Davao del Norte. In Calinan, Davao City, a habal-habal driver almost ran over a tarsier that crossed the street.

While tarsiers are not endemic in the rapidly urbanizing hub that is Tagum, the local government here is keen on offering its green parks as an alternative sanctuary to these tiny animals. Just last April, three tarsiers were released in separate occasions at the Tagum Botanical Park in Barangay San Agustin.

The park is a 31-hectare green space developed by the City Government of Tagum that is planted with local and foreign tropical trees. The hilly park is blanketed with a canopy of trees.

While parts of the park are devoted for human activities — gazebos are installed in strategic areas where groups of people converge to eat or meet, for example — a large part of the park is still devoid of humans. Because noise easily stresses tarsiers, the Tagum Botanical Park is a perfect place for them since it is peaceful and silent. It’s like an oasis from the hustle and bustle of this rapidly changing urban center.

In February this year, a farmer found a female tarsier in Barangay San Agustin near the Botanical Park, a surprising indication that tarsiers may already be thriving in Tagum.

Two of the tarsiers (a male and a female) that were released in the park recently came from the towns of New Corella and Asuncion in Davao del Norte. The persons that found them decided to turn them over to the Tagum City Government after hearing television reports that the city had a facility to take care of these animals. Mayor Allan L. Rellon welcomed this development and tasked the city’s environment and natural resources office to study how how the local government can help protect this endangered species.

While a tarsier sanctuary in Tagum may sound cool, a veterinarian from the City Veterinary Office said it’s better to let the tarsiers live in their natural habitats. Her advice to people who find a tarsier — leave it alone unless they are sure that it is weak and needs veterinary care.