Volcanoes erupted, lava hardened, and rainforests flourished. This extremely condensed history fits many of the islands that now make up the Philippines. Within the volcanic saga of the islands, the history of the species that live there are interwoven. Endemism and biodiversity are exceptionally high across the Philippine archipelago making it one of the top locations for wildlife tourism.
A Primate Like No Other
One endemic species that has gone unchanged for the past 45 million years is the Philippine Tarsier (Tarsius syrichta). Tarsiers are primates found only in South Asia. They share a common ancestor with monkeys and apes, but their own phylogenic line branches off into the family Tarsiidae. All tarsiers are nocturnal and carnivorous. Their big, distinctive eyes cannot move in their sockets. So instead, the tarsier turns its head 180 degrees like a cute, demented creature.
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) listed the Philippine tarsier as threatened in 1976 because the species had a small range and much of its habitat was being destroyed. There are many species on the ESA list that are outside the boundaries of the United States. While the US doesn’t have jurisdiction over how other countries protect their own wildlife, it is nevertheless important to list these species for two reasons: 1) To ban importing the species into the US and 2) To raise awareness for travelers.
Raising awareness for travelers crucial, especially with the increased popularity of wildlife tourism. In the Philippines, tarsiers became a desired animal to take from the wild and show off to visitors. But tarsiers are extremely shy and sensitive creatures that do not fair well in captivity. Is a photo with an animal worth its death?
In Need of a Status Update
I started writing about species listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 because there is political talk about dismantling it. There are too many species on that list that need further actions to save them from human-driven extinction. If anything, more resources need to be put into updating and strengthening this piece of legislation. Besides the initial 1976 listing, the Philippine tarsier has not had an update on its status. More of its habitat has been destroyed, many have died in captivity, and countless have been taken by the illegal pet trade. So how close is the Philippine tarsier to extinction? And what further actions can be taken to keep them from getting closer?