The Chocolate Hills is undoubtedly the main lure for the majority of travelers to the island of Bohol in the southern Philippines, but for me, the utmost priority was to meet the sweeter version of Gremlins, namely the Philippine Tarsier, a wonderfully weird species of small primates that cling to the skinny branches with their long, alien fingers.
This whimsical palm-sized animal must have inspired the creators of Star Wars Jedi, Yoda, though regardless, featuring the tail of a rat, the legs of a frog, the sticky fingers of a gecko, the rotating head of an owl, the ears of Prince Charles, and the face of a baby with manga eyes, Tarsier was clearly designed to have the cutest appearance any creature could possess.
Don’t be fooled by their cute and shy appearance though, tarsiers are very agile predators capable of leaping great distances up to 16 feet/5 meters. In fact, tarsiers are the only exclusively carnivorous primate feasting on insects, reptiles like lizards and snakes, frogs, and even birds.
All of the tarsier species living today (approx. 13) are found only on various islands in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and are among the smallest known primates. Albeit not the smallest, the Philippine Tarsier is still one of the smallest primates with an average weight of 130 grams for an adult, and well worth the trip. While it’s quite hard to spot these googly-eyed nocturnal primates with only about a hundred reportedly left in the wild, the good news is that a patch of the Philippine forests is devoted to saving the lives of these peculiarly cute animals.
Unfortunately, the situation in the Philippines is dubious when it comes to organizations claiming to be a Tarsier Conservation Area. Tarsiers are delicate, emotionally sensitive creatures that are easily stressed out when particularly exposed to light and noise. They tend to commit suicide in captivity by banging their thin skulls against trees, walls of the cage, or anything hard that would kill them almost instantly. When in Bohol, please avoid roadside mini-zoos or attractions that keep tarsiers captive or semi-captive, and make sure to visit reputable conservation organizations such as the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary in the town of Corella, where they get the silence, space, and forest indispensable for their survival, so that you can enjoy your encounter with these adorable tiny primates with equal peace of mind.