Endangered primate threatened by tourism in the Philippines

17 December 2011 Science News

Endangered primate threatened by tourism in the Philippines

Daily Mail | December 2012

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Tourists in the Philippines are putting a rare primate at risk, according to conservationists.

The nocturnal Philippine tarsier is a big draw for tourists who try to get as close as possible to the animals in the wild so that they can photograph them.

But the shy creatures - which are around four inches tall and are one of the smallest primates in the world - are highly sensitive to daylight, noise and human contact.

Such close contact with humans can be highly stressful for the animals and can cause them to repeatedly hit their head against a tree, which often kills them.

Conservationist Carlito Pizarras told AFP: ‘People go near and they're loud, or make a picture with the flash, or they're touching them. Most of those tarsiers, when they become stressed they commit suicide.

‘They don't breathe and slowly die. If you put them in a cage they want to go out. That's why they bump their heads on the cage, and it will crack because the cranium is so thin.’

The tarsier can be found in the Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia but populations in all of these countries are decreasing due to hunting and the destruction of its habitat.

The Philippine government declared the tarsier a ‘specially protected’ species in 1997 but the number of the animals living in the wild in the country has dwindled to just several hundred.

Most of these primates live in the 413 acres of forest around the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary on the island of Bohol, which has become one of the country's most popular tourist destinations.

Joannie Mary Cabillo, the programme manager at the Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary said: ‘The tarsier is a superstar but unfortunately it's suffering because of its fame.

‘The government is backing up but not that much. We have a presidential proclamation and laws to protect the tarsiers but unfortunately nobody is sanctioned.’

Theresa Mundita Lim, director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), says that tarsier tourism is a double-edged sword and more needs to be done to protect the animal.

‘We can still do more through education and stricter enforcement,’ she says. 'There has to be stricter monitoring, also for tourists.’

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