The Philippine Tarsier, a minuscule, wide-eyed animal found in eight islands in the Philippines, is one of the world’s smallest recognized primates. An adult male seldom grows larger than 6 inches. To classify them as the world’s smallest monkey is possibly erroneous as scientists believe these critters are more closely related to lemurs and bushbabies and therefore belong to the prosimian family. Tarsiers are arboreal, living in holes in trees and among the roots of bamboo plants. They are nocturnal and shy, with prominent eyes; in fact, they have the biggest eyes relative to their body weight of any mammal. They have long, slender toes that grasp branches and make them very agile climbers. They are actively acrobatic and leap from tree to tree propelling themselves athletic distances to capture their insect prey. Like owls, their necks have a full range of motion, so they can even jump backwards with complete visibility.
Tarsiers are normally seen in pairs of one male and female. Astonishingly, when female tarsiers give birth, their newborns are 25% of their mothers weight- the largest percentage infant birth weight ratio amongst mammals. As soon as they are born baby tarsiers open their eyes and can jump, although in times of danger their mothers will carry them clasped to her abdomen or in her mouth. By the time the baby is a month old, he/she can make full leaps; and by 42 days, they are capable of hunting insects on their own.
Previously subject to being captured, killed, and stuffed to sell to tourists as a grotesque novelty, this practice is now mercifully prohibited by law and has largely ceased. However, tarsiers are still threatened by the destruction of their natural habitat from years of careless slash-and-burn deforesting and logging. Their numbers have been so drastically reduced that the species is dangerously endangered. The Tarsier is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), but they are unfortunately still poached for food and to be sold as pets.
Being captured in the pet trade is especially fatal to a tarsier. According to the Philippine Tarsier Foundation, the tarsier’s timid nature causes it to panic when touched or surrounded by loud sounds; in fact, in captivity tarsiers are known to sometimes commit suicide. Fortunately the Philippine’s Department of Tourism has been largely supportive of tarsier preservation; some islands offer ecotourism specifically dedicated to environmental awareness. This support is most notable in the island of Bohol, where the Friends of Tarsiers has been established to pool the financial means and cheerful effort of businessmen, professionals, government subsidies, and students, to encourage conservation and spread environmental preservation awareness.
We all can help by firstly not keeping tarsiers as pets and by discouraging others from doing so. The appeal of a beautiful, exotic pet does not make up for the fact that not only does the pet trade push tarsiers further to extinction, it is also unlawful. We can further help the tarsier’s cause by refraining from patronizing international trade outlets that display illegally obtained tarsiers.