Bohol sanctuary protects Philippine tarsiers

A forested area in Corella has significantly increased the number of the endangered Philippine tarsiers in Bohol.

Tarsiers flourish when they have a big area to live in as they are loners and extremely territorial animals and the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary has effectively enlarged the size of their habitat, said field manager Carlito Pizzaras.

The Philippine tarsiers are under the genus Carlito, one of only three groupings of primates under the Tarsiidae family, in recognition of the Boholano’s efforts to conserve them.

Guided tours are allowed in some parts of the sanctuary.

Two other genera are the Tarsius, found on Sulawesi and surrounding islands, and Cephalopachus, existing in the southern parts of Sumatra and the island of Borneo, explained Nong Lito, as Pizzaras is fondly called by family and friends.

Philippine tarsiers

There are currently around a hundred tarsiers living in the 8.4-hectare Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary in Bohol, which is being managed by the Philippine Tarsier Foundation.

However, only a hectare is open to guests who want to look at the Philippine tarsiers in their natural habitat. Entrance to the tarsier viewing area, where guests are accompanied by a guide at all times, is only P50 per person.

One of the Philippine tarsiers living in a wildlife sanctuary in Corella, Bohol.

Although Philippine tarsiers each need a hectare to live in, Pizzaras said they were able to have five live together peaceably within this size of land by ensuring there is enough food for all.

Tarsiers eat grasshoppers, crickets, locusts, butterflies, moths, beetles, stick insects, ants, bees, wasps, and even dragonflies. They are nocturnal animals and prowl at night, chasing and fighting off other tarsiers they’d come across on land they consider their territory, Pizzaras cited.

Very early in the morning, local guides would tour the viewing area and find out where the tarsiers have camped out for the day. The guests are then brought directly to the spots where the tarsiers are when they visit.

Wildlife sanctuary

We were only able to look at two of the primates during our guided tour. Pizzaras said they have identified at least five pregnant tarsiers, one or two of which are in the viewing area, and don’t want them disturbed.

Philippine tarsiers are excitable and have been known to kill themselves by holding their breath when under stress. Pizzaras said this has been known to happen when people get too close to the animals or there’s a lot of noise.

This is why a few of the rules of the viewing area include keeping quiet when looking at the sleeping tarsiers and not using flash when taking pictures.

Pizzaras said any other way of breeding and conserving Philippine tarsiers doesn’t work, in a dig at the one in Loboc where the animals are kept together in a cramped space.

According to him, the Provincial Government is setting aside 167 hectares of timberland to increase the size of the sanctuary. The area is contiguous to the existing Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary and will provide a big boost to current conservation efforts in Bohol, he explained.

Carlito Pizzaras manages the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary in Bohol.

Tarsier man

The diminutive Pizzaras, called tarsier man, said there were still quite a big number of tarsiers in Bohol in 1966. It was at this time that Pizzaras, who was 12, started getting interested in and taking care of the animals.

Many people discouraged him, telling him the animals were difficult to handle. Tarsiers are known locally as “maomag” – a Boholano term for large and bulging eyes,

The destruction of their habitat and the increase in the number of house cats, which hunt tarsiers, cause the primate’s population to go down.

When he started the sanctuary upon the urging and with the backing of Bohol Beach Club owner Anos Fonacier in 1996, there were only around 10 of the tarsiers.

There are currently a little over a hundred in the sanctuary but this will further go up with the collaboration between the Provincial Government and Philippine Tarsier Foundation, he added.

To reach the sanctuary, visitors need to walk from the main highway through a narrow road flanked by trees.

Popular attraction

The tarsiers are very interesting animals and a popular attraction in Bohol. They are one of the smallest primates and a grown tarsier is only about the size of an adult human hand.

Although the town of Corella is only 30 minutes away from Tagbilaran City, transport to the sanctuary in the village of Canapnapan is quite a challenge especially if you go there on your own and not as part of a tour group.

Getting there

Jeepneys bound for Sikatuna pass close by but they wait until their designated departure time, which could take as long as 30 to 45 minutes if like us you were unfortunate enough to go there when one had just left. They wait at the terminal near the Island City Mall in the Dao District of Tagbilaran. Fare per person was P17.

Going back to Tagbilaran City is also a challenge since only a few public utility vehicles ply this route. After waiting for close to 30 minutes, we were able to flag a metered taxi going back and fare was around P200.

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