What if I’m a tarsier, can humans live up to my existence?
“Ang Tarsier kong patulog-tulog sa gabi’y gising pabitin-bitin… Taaaaarsier, mahaba ang buntot. Taaaarsier, ulo’y naikot. Ang Tarsier kong patulog-tulog sa gabi’y gising pabitin-bitin.”
– (UP Los Baños, 2011)
I can still remember how my Filipina grandmother used to sing me this chant as lullaby when I was only three years old. I do not know how it feels right now but I really miss my grandmother a lot just before she died two years ago.
By the way, my name is Carl short for Carlito syrichta. Most people call me tarsier but my brothers and sisters in the southeastern part of the Philippines prefer to address me as “mamag, mago, magau or magatilok-iok” (Philippine Tarsier Foundation, 1996). I got my name (genus) Carlito after my grandfather Carlito Pizarras, who is also well known as the “Tarsier Man” (Jarosz, 2013). Recently in 2010, my uncles and aunts who are primatologists decided to change the first proposed name of my grandmother – Tarsius, because my other siblings were already named as such (Groves & Shekelle, 2010). Hence, I am the only one in the family with the identity Carlito. But before anything else, let me have a short introduction of my origin.
I belong to the family Tarsiidae – one of the distinct lineages and primate order that endemically can be found in the Southeast Asia. I live here in the Philippines and we have three “distinctive population lineages: the Bohol-Samar-Leyte, the Dinagat-Caraga and the Mindanao-Zamboanga” (Brown et al., 2014).
I bet you were already amazed with me, having not only one but more than five home provinces. That is because my family is really so widespread in the southern Philippines. You will be more surprised if I say I am currently here in Baguio City, located in the northern part of the archipelago. You might ask why. Well, I have been experiencing a lot of troubles and stress this past few years. Hence, I decided to take a short break, breathe some fresh air and relax. I also need some time to reflect what was going on with me and my fellow brothers and sisters in Visayas and Mindanao. The summer capital is a good place to do this, I think. My grandmother told me that we also have relatives in Indonesia and Malaysia. However, I have no any plans yet to visit them.
To be clear and wrap it up, I have my identification card below during my elementary grade that also contains sort of my background information.
Figure 1. Close up image of the Philippine Tarsier photographed by Doug Wechsler (2004). Retrieved from http://www.arkive.org/philippine-tarsier/tarsius-syrichta/image-G33058.html
* Taxonomy information was taken from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List (IUCN Red List, 2008). However, Tarsius syrichta as the former genus of the Philippine tarsier was intently modified from the IUCN Red List as presented here, to give way for Carlito syrichta as its newly acknowledged genus (2010).
Well, I have already mentioned a while ago that I belong to three distinct lineages. To be more specific, these lineages of mine are located either in “Samar, Leyte, Bohol, Dinagat Island, Siargao, Mindanao and Basilan” and many other places in Mindanao where I am reported to be seen and inhabited (Nowak, 1999, p. 535).
Hill (1955) told me that I also have three subspecies classifications distributed across these specific areas, namely: T. s. syrichta (from Samar and Leyte), T.s. carbonarius (from Mindanao), and T.s. fraterculus (from Bohol). Nowadays, confusions occur as to whether or not the three lineages correspond directly to my subspecies. There is no further findings yet to support and claim any of these arguments. But one thing for sure, I am native or endemic to the Philippines and very much famous in Bohol (Shekelle, Gursky, Merker & Ong, 2014).
As you can observe, the southern part of the Philippines is reach in biodiversity. This ensures me greater chance of survival along with my brothers and sisters. However, ecological phenomena and issues such as illegal logging and deforestation—as I will be facing in the succeeding part—have decreased my chance of survival and worst, could further lead to my extinction if no urgent conservation action will be taken for my sake (Shekelle et al., p. 43).
I am an arboreal primate which means I spent most of the day gripping on trees and sleeping, of course, because I am nocturnal as you know (Nowak, 1999, p. 535). Trees are certainly important to me. I love them especially those that are “pole-sized” necessary for me to move up and leap higher away from anyone who might hurt me. Also, in order to perform my acrobatic and locomotive moves. I am a terrestrial animal who demands primary and secondary forest habitats but I more prefer the latter. If you want to find me, just go to places with “low-stature vegetation” or denser agricultural areas. You can also see me sleeping in gardens, sometimes in plantations and farms (Shekelle & Arboleda, 2008). In general, I am not that fussy when it comes to shelter.
HOW DO I LOOK?
You have probably heard about my two big eyes and “sexy” figure. Please bear with my term sexy but all I mean is, I am just a small creature with these distinct eyes which already became my hallmark. Most people categorizes me as a monkey even though that is a big misconception since he [monkey] does not belong to my family, neither I to his. Therefore, it is not also true that I am “the smallest monkey in the world” for in the first place, I am not a monkey. We are some kind related as primates if you will ask our great-great-grandfather Darwin but basically we are not related as family. Maybe he is just feeling close because he loves my grandmother too? I do not know.
The Philippine Tarsier Foundation (1996) calculated that my average weight is 120 grams and my height is approximately reaching 100 millimeters and above, so that is roughly more than 10 centimeters. In fact, my “tail is considerably longer than [my] body (189 to 293 millimeters for males).”
I have not mentioned yet why most people call me tarsier. Nowak (1999) tells more about this… Do you now see how popular I am and an instant celebrity since 1999 up until the present times? Well, according to him it is primarily because of my “elongated tarsal, or ankle, region.” My fingers are also long with my pads round that enables me “to grasp any surface”. Some also thought that my thumbs are opposable while in fact it is not, only my first toe. Let us see how Nowak describes me:
The thumb is not truly opposable, but the first toe is well developed and widely opposable. Except for the second and third toes, which have clawlike nails used in grooming, the digits have flattened nails. (p. 535)
My dental record was also shown by Nowak (1999). He probably has a lot of things to say about me more than I know for myself:
The dental formula is: (i 2/1, c 1/1, pm 3/3, m 3/3 X 2 = 36). The upper incisors are large and pointed and the lower incisors point upward, not forward. The upper canines are relatively small. The cheek teeth are adapted for a diet of insects. (p. 535)
Furthermore, the Philippine Tarsier Foundation (1996) identified me as a creature with “a flattened face, round skull, erect posture…my ears twice as large as those of humans but incapable of seeing from the corners; and its head, which can rotate up to 180 degrees, enabling it to leap backward with high precision. ” Another distinct characteristic of mine aside from my eyes, is my tail. As you know, I have a long prehensile tail which I also use for balance in leaping, to grasp prey more easily while moving and clinging vertically (even horizontally) from tree branches.
All in all, you will find me interesting. I am not just your typical sneaky creature.
WHO IS MORE HUMANE? (Tarsiers in General)
Even if no one tells me I know you have been thinking that I might be your long-lost brother or uncle or cousin; and that my sisters are your sisters too; that we have originated from the same grandparents or ancestor. My point is, we share common emotions and behavior, admit it or not. I believe I am not that unlikable as a brother. Am I?
To start with, I am a nocturnal animal – active at night and more likely sleeping during daytime. Like some or perhaps most humans (call center agents, is that how you call them?) we also perform our duties and express our social behaviors mostly at night. I hunt my food (e.g., insects, cockroaches, lizards, crickets or whatever my caregiver gives me, of course, only those included in my diet) starting from sunset until dawn (Nowak, 1999, p. 535).
When you go to Bohol and you see me, you might think I am with my girlfriend or special someone. That is because we usually go in pairs. I am highly social with my fellow tarsiers, specifically to opposite sex but not as you think as I am to you. We are actually “shy and nervous” to humans. I do not want them holding me or even touching my fur. I am very less likely to survive when captivated and petted (Philippine Tarsier Foundation, 1996).
Another social behavior that we definitely share alike with humans is that of monogamous pairing and mating system. Mackinnon and Mackinnon (1980 as cited in King, 2015, p. 122) observed spectral tarsiers as having a strict one-to-one attachment or pairing. Like humans with romantic partners, we “tend to stay near each other” listening to one another (auditory contact) with visual link or interaction as well. I also use my tail to hold and intertwine hers. If I have gained enough courage I would go with her, sit and stay close. Do these sound familiar? I have been seeing humans in Burnham park here in Baguio doing the same thing as we did. Courting, like in most humans, is necessary and observable for our reproductive success. On the other hand, polygyny is also evident among us, specifically to my fellow Sulawesi brothers and sisters in Indonesia where polygamous mating system has been recorded (Driller et al., 2009; Gursky, 2000 as cited in King, 2015, p. 122). This is what I think explains humans with third party or parties; or if you go to Indian communities and many other places in the globe you can see polygamous mating or marriage system as part of their culture.
We are also territorial and form social solidarity as can be implied from our behavior of building nests. Although this claim of “nest building tarsiers” is subject to arguments as Nowak (1999) opposed, my Sulawesi brothers and sisters in Indonesia were reported to have been building nests during mating and reproduction season (King, 2015, p. 122):
Common ranging patterns or sharing of nest served to identify groups of up to nine individuals among the Sulawesi tarsiers. Group members relocated each other when when the night’s foraging ended and slept in the same tree. (para. 4)
The solidarity in the Sulawesi family or group is represented in the treatment of infants that have been park by their mothers: other group members of both sexes frequently visit and play with the infants. (para. 5)
Now you might consider that I am indeed your long-lost brother. If so, then why do humans keep on hurting me and my co-species? Why do they continuously destruct our habitats and torture most of us, if we are really brothers and sisters by ancestry? These are questions that lead me to think, who is more humane?
SAVE THE LAST ONE
The IUCN Red List (2008), listed me [Carlito syrichta] in the category “Nearly Threatened” as one of the species prone to become endangered and even extinct when conservation programs do not further intensify. Recently in 2014, the IUCN released its new list of endangered primate in its issue Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2014-2016, from where I saw my name as one of the latest inclusions. From that moment on, I cannot fully express how grieving and disappointed I am for myself and my fellow brothers and sisters in Visayas and Mindanao, particularly when I read the possible and the known reasons of my inclusion as endangered:
First, the lack of sufficient and concrete knowledge regarding my taxa as identified by Shekelle et al. (2014). The confusion whether the three genetic lineages correspond to the three possible subspecies specified by Hill (1955) lead to the difficult and inaccurate monitoring of population for each lineage or subspecies. This lack of further research puts me in so much harm and sooner or later, you might not see me anymore clinging on trees and leaping at night.
Another phenomenon that made me endangered is the adverse effect of “megadeforestation” which directly destoys our original forest habitats – the Philippines being ranked number 4 in The World’s 10 Most Threatened Forest Hotspots (CI, 2011 as cited in Shekelle et al., 2014).
The third reason is quite alarming. Climate change that resulted into extreme typhoons and natural disasters in the Philippines like the typhoon Haiyan that has swept large areas and numbers of my habitats and population last 2013, in Samar and Leyte to be more specific. Natural disasters such as the Magnitude 7.2 earthquake that strucked Bohol in the same year had a direct impact and disturbance to my even declining population (Gursky, unpublished as cited in Shekelle et al., 2014) Luckily, I have survived those and still writing this paper.
The Philippines’ tourism campaign and activities for its wide biodiversity and natural resources has eventually imposed danger to my brothers and sisters not only in the southern Philippines but also in urban places and metropolitan areas including Metro Manila. I am being exploited and sold illegally as “an ecotourism mascot” that has gone widespread in the Philippines. We are also displayed as attractions in road areas in “conditions that can be heartbreaking, especially as [we] are nocturnal animals on display during the daytime” (Shekelle et al., 2014).
All of these combined sum up my short and sorrowful story. To the question why should humans be concerned about my present condition, I am dying to say that it is because we share common denominator as species and that we live in a common environment. If we believe that evolution persists up until the present time, humans should pay attention on how we also adapt to the ever changing condition of our surroundings and use this knowledge for furthering their own adaptation mechanism, for their species and our species greater chance of survival. But more of that, I am firm to my conviction that I also deserve equal protection and right to live, as long as we and the humans evolve from one common ancestor and that no species is superior in the process and theory of evolution.
To their hands, I rest my case.
Arts Research & Training Institute in Southern Tagalog, Inc. (2011, November) Ang Tarsier. A chant presented at Malikhaing Guro: Heritage-Based Pedagogy Seminar-Workshop, UP Los Banos, Laguna.
Brown R.M., Weghorst J.A., Olson K.V., Duya M.R.M., Barley A.J, Duya M.V., et al. (2014) Conservation genetics of the Philippine tarsier: Cryptic genetic variation restructures conservation priorities for an island archipelago primate. PLOS ONE, 9(8): e104340. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0104340
Groves, C. & Shekelle, M. (2010) The Genera and species of tarsiidae. International Journal of Primatology, 31(6), 1071-1082 [Abstract]. doi:10.1007/s10764-010-9443-1
King, G. E. (2015). The Tarsioid Suborder: Common Features and Variation. Chapter 10 of Primate Behavior and Human Origins (pp. 118-129). Routledge.
Nowak, R. M. (1999). Walker’s Mammals of the World (Vol. 1). JHU Press. Retrieved from https://books.google.com.ph/booksid=T37sFCl43E8C&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
Shekelle, M. & Arboleda, I. (2008). Tarsius syrichta. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T21492A9289252. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T21492A9289252.en
Shekell, M., Gursky, S., Merker, S. & Ong, P. (2014). Philippine tarsier. In C. Schwitzer et al. (Eds.), Primates in Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2014-2016 (pp. 43-44). Arlington, VA: IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group (PSG), International Primatological Society (IPS), Conservation International (CI), Bristol Zoological Society (BZS).
The Philippine Tarsier Foundation (1996). The Philippine Tarsier. Retrieved from http://www. tarsierfoundation .org/the-philippine-tarsier
Figure 1. Wechsler, D. (Photographer). (2004). Philippine tarsier [Online Image]. Retrieved September 10, 2016, from http://www.arkive.org/philippine-tarsier/tarsius-syrichta/image-G33058.html
Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). (2010). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
A paper requirement submitted to my Anthropology 104 Class under Prof. Victoria Diaz (Associate Professor of Anthropology, A.B., Department of Social Anthropology and Psychology, University of the Philippines Baguio).