Philippine Tarsier Foundation
|Founded||April 17, 1996, Philippines|
Fr. Florante S. Camacho, SVD
|Products||Lobbying, research, consultancy|
|Slogan||Protecting a 45 Million-Year-Old Specie!|
The Philippine Tarsier Foundation, Incorporated (PTFI) is a non-profit, non-stock corporation based in Tagbilaran City, Bohol, Philippines, established in 1996 to conserve, promote research and establish a sanctuary for the Philippine tarsier. It is an entirely private sector initiative, but has strong support from two leading organizations in conservation and eco-tourism, namely the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Tourism (DOT). To ensure the continued existence of the Philippine tarsier, the Foundation is attempting to bring tourism to the province of Bohol in a way that is ecologically friendly to the Philippine tarsier.
Organized by local businessmen in Bohol, an island of 1.2 million people, the foundation runs a 8.4-hectare (20.7-acre) sanctuary or forest reservation, nestled within a larger protected forest where about a thousand other Philippine tarsier are believed to live, protected by a permanent logging ban. At the reservation, visitors can observe the Philippine tarsier in its natural habitat, in an enclosure, or conduct research at the Philippine Tarsier Research and Development Center. Here, researchers fitting temporary radio collars helped establish the animals' breeding and eating habits as well as their territorial ranges.
Under a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the DENR signed on April 27, 1997, the Philippine Tarsier Foundation, Incorporated has the following missions: to establish a forest reserve in the island of Bohol which shall serve as the sanctuary of the Philippine tarsier; to protect and manage the tarsier sanctuary through the active participation of local communities; to establish and maintain a wildlife research laboratory for the study of the ecology and biology of the Philippine tarsier; to establish and maintain visitor facilities for ecotourism and disseminate information material about the Philippine tarsier with emphasis on the species' protection and conservation.
The foundation's four-point conservation program include: (1) tarsier research to study the tarsier's biology and behavior; record its population and distribution; identify habitat and food source; and develop instructional or educational materials; (2) tarsier habitat management by defining the perimeter of the sanctuary with its topography surveyed and mapped; vegetation and wildlife within assessed; all flora and fauna inventoried and indexed; appropriate signage installed in strategic places; and adequate measures taken to ensure the integrity and security of the reservation; (3) community management by establishing, maintaining and continuously updating community profiles in the area; regularly conducting dialogues and like activities to enlighten local residents on the purposes of the sanctuary and encourage their cooperation and participation toward achieving these; integrating tarsier conservation into day-to-day activities; and envisioning and implementing awareness and income-generating projects; and (4) visitor management which involves the development of an overall site plan; the design and layout of essential facilities; the identification of significant areas and potential attractions; the construction of a visitor complex; the laying out of ecotours and the training of guides for them; and the production of tourism-related materials.
Programs, projects, and activities
The Philippine Tarsier Foundation undertakes the collection and cataloguing of all available research materials on the Philippine tarsier from various institutions and agencies in the country and abroad; and the production of information and promotional materials.
The foundation also runs a Tarsier Research and Development Center which serves as a visitor and information center and which also coordinates the conduct of research on the Philippine tarsier. Researchers fitting temporary radio collars helped establish the animals' breeding and eating habits as well as their territorial ranges. Among the researches conducted are: (1) inventory of the flora and fauna of the Philippine tarsier sanctuary conducted by the National Museum of the Philippines with students of Divine Word College of Tagbilaran (now Holy Name University) in 1998; (2) "Home Ranges, Spatial Movements and Habitat Association of the Philippine Tarsier (Tarsius syrichta) in Corella, Bohol" by Dr. Irene Neri-Arboleda, 1999, University of Adelaide, Australia; (3) "Molecular pyelography of Philippine Tarsiers: Implications for Biodiversity Assessment and Conservation" to be conducted by Dr. Irene Neri-Arboleda; and  (4) "Introducing an innovative semi-captive environment for the Philippine tarsier (Tarsius syrichta)", 2004 by David S. Jachowski and Carlito Pizarras.
Tarsier habitat management
In terms of habitat management, the foundation conducted a series of environmental, topographic, photographic and social surveys of the tarsier sanctuary and its vicinity. It also undertook the commission of a comprehensive site plan, including the architectural design of the planned visitor complex and other support facilities and amenities. The Foundation has designated approximately 134 hectares as public domain. With the environment department playing an oversight role, the tarsier foundation has asked other Bohol towns with tarsier populations to donate 20 hectares (49.4 acres) of forestland for conservation. To date, the Foundation has acquired 8.4 hectares of land in Canapnapan, Corella, Bohol for the sanctuary. Within the sanctuary, tarsiers roam freely and visitors can only go to a spot where they can be seen but not touched.
Existing in the area now is a spacious net enclosure where 100 Philippine tarsiers are kept safe from predators as well as for feeding, breeding and display. The 100 tarsiers in the enclosure have gotten used to a 7-foot-high (2.1 m) fence that circumscribes the territory. At night, they can be seen climbing out of the fence to forage for food farther into the forest. They return again before daybreak, as if observing a curfew.
Carlito Pizarras serves as the Field Supervisor of the sanctuary, as employee of the foundation, assuming responsibility for the maintenance of the net enclosure and its inmates. Because they are extremely shy and nervous, tarsiers can only be handled by an experienced keeper.
The foundation further coordinates the conduct of reforestation projects and other related activities or initiatives.
In Bohol, the foundation has also encouraged the formation of the "Friends of Tarsier," an association composed of local professionals, religious and civic leaders, media practitioners, businessmen, government executives and workers, and students committed to tarsier conservation effort in particular and environmental protection and preservation in general. The foundation also made appeals for both financial and technical assistance from various organizations, corporations and individuals, public and private, Filipino as well as foreign, which have shown themselves to be similarly minded and are past and present contributors to such causes. The first to respond to these solicitations has been the Department of Tourism, which has released to the Foundation a generous grant earmarked for projects and activities in the ecotourism field.
Through its "Supporting the Philippine Tarsier Conservation Program", First Gen donated Php2 million to the Philippine Tarsier Foundation to help fund the Philippine Tarsier Conservation Program which is focused on preventing the extinction of the indigenous Philippine tarsier. A portion First Gen's donation was used to fund research on the implications for Biodiversity Assessment and Conservation in the provinces of Visayas and Mindanao where tarsiers have been found to live. Additional amounts to be disbursed in 2005 and 2006 will be used for organizing communities towards the protection of the tarsier and the promotion of eco-tourism within the sanctuary area in Corella, Bohol. Scarce government funding, however, leaves the preservation effort primarily in the hands of the private sector.
The foundation also conducted individual and corporate membership campaigns aimed at allowing as many local residents as possible to actively support and participate in the Philippine Tarsier Foundation. This is in the firm belief that no undertaking of such a nature can flourish without a strong community base. Subsequently, the campaign will be extended to the rest of the country and abroad, with environmentally involved or aware institutions, agencies, companies and persons foremost in mind.
While for the moment the Foundation is focusing its efforts in Bohol, it hopes eventually to link up with groups similarly engaged in nature conservancy elsewhere in the Philippines, with whom it may jointly develop projects toward protecting the tarsier, other endangered, protected and rare fauna and flora species, and their natural habitats.
The Tarsier Research and Development Center about 14 km outside the provincial capital, Tagbilaran City, in the town of Corella, Bohol, also serves as visitor center. The center has a reception and souvenir counter, an exhibit area, an audio-visual room, restrooms, and administration offices. Outside is a lounge deck, and nearby a parking lot, beyond which no vehicles will be allowed.
Visitors can choose to either see and observe the Philippine tarsier in the net enclosure or in their nature habitat through the tarsier trail. As mentioned earlier, the net enclosure has a seven-foot fence where 100 Philippine tarsiers are kept for feeding, breeding and display. Here, visitors can get up close and personal with the species, or take pictures, but are urged to do so quietly and not to handle them so as not to put stress on the animals who are asleep during daytime.
The Tarsier Trail is a pathway that meanders through the gently rolling terrain of the interior towns of Corella, Sikatuna and Loboc of Bohol. Over a distance of roughly 15 kilometers it traverses the natural habitat of the Philippine tarsier, offering numerous vantage points from which to catch a glimpse of the Philippine tarsier in the wild and become acquainted with a wide variety of local flora and fauna.
The tarsier trail begins at the Tarsier Research and Development Center in Barangay Canapnapan, Corella, Bohol. While there, the trekkers are oriented to the unique characteristics and habits of the Philippine tarsier through multi media presentations such as a photographic display and an audio-visual presentation. In small groups, they are conducted by trained volunteer guides, mostly college students from Tagbilaran City, through the 134-hectare forested area that has been set aside as the tarsier sanctuary, populated by an estimated 500 of the species divided into mini-colonies of no more than three to 10 adults and offspring each. Along the way, they see mature secondary growths of mahogany, teak and ficus trees, and reminded that up to the last century, Bohol was a main source of hardwood used in the construction of sea vessels, churches, houses and for furniture throughout the Central Visayas region. They are also introduced to the many varieties of palm, fern, bamboo and other greenery growing in profusion on both sides of the Philippine tarsier trail.
As they proceed farther, they are alerted to the fauna these parts are home to, the most common among them being the serpent eagle, brahmini kite, woodpecker, rocky-tailed blue-headed parrot, grass owl, scoop owl, bubock pigeon, water cock, parakeets, and reel. Monkeys, monitor lizards and snakes like the python and the cobra still abound, and on a good day, the trekkers may even be treated to sightings of the macaque, palm civet cat, and Philippine civet cat. The entire area is an insect paradise, teeming with the creatures that are a staple of the diet of the Philippine tarsier, which will only ingest them live. All these may be observed either at ground level or from a series of elevated decks erected along the trail, some with restrooms nearby.
From the hinterlands of Sikatuna, the trail then crosses over into Loboc near the source of the broad and deep river, where after a course that can take anywhere from two hours to half day, swimming and sunbathing comes as a welcome respite. A short visit to the coraline stone Loboc church, a fine example of the more subdued but nonetheless still grand Jesuit baroque style for which the province is famous, comes next. Then, just across the road from the church, the trekkers board bamboo rafts, partaking of a native seafood buffet or a hearty snack as they float lazily down the placid emerald green river up to the small seaport of the town of Loay. From there, they take the road back to Tagbilaran City, which is no more than an easy 40 minutes away by bus.
Board of trustees and officers
On April 17, 1996, the Philippine Tarsier Foundation Inc. was registered with the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission, with the following prominent Bohol residents listed as incorporators: the Rev. Florante Camacho, SVD, president of the Divine Word College of Tagbilaran; Anos Fonacier, municipal councilor of Panglao, Bohol and resort operator; and Col. (Ret.) Zosimo Angan, businessman. They were later joined by Richard Uy, banker, and Marlito Uy, department store owner. Elected principal officers were Fonacier as chairman; Camacho as president; and Alvarez, who is the only non-Boholano on the board, as executive vice-president.
The executive officers of the Board of Trustees and Officers of the Philippine Tarsier Foundation during its incorporation in 1996 are Fr. Florante S. Camacho, SVD, president; Jesus Alvarez, Executive director; Urbano Lagunay, secretary; Marlito Uy, treasurer; and retired Col. Zosimo Angan as auditor. The Board of Trustees are Anos Fonacier, Chairman; Richard Uy, Vice Chairman; and Honorary Chairperson is Secretary Mina Gabor of the Department of Tourism
Currently, the following are the officers and Board Of Trustees: Chairman, Fr. Florante S. Camacho, SVD; V-Chairman, Mr. Richard T. Uy; President, Ayty. Urbano Lagunay; V-President, Mr. Lyndon Angan (resigned - inactive); Secretary, Glenn Oceña (Program Officer); Treasurer, Mr. Marlito Uy; Members: Atty. Anos Fonacier; Dr. Irene Arboleda (our researcher/scientist); Mr. Soliven Fonacier; Mayor Vito Rapal - Municipality of Corella; and Field Supervisor Mr. Carlito Pizarras ('the tarsier-man')
Carlito "Lito" Pizarras, known as the "Tarsier Man", is the Field Supervisor of the 7.4-hectare Philippine tarsier sanctuary run by the Philippine Tarsier Foundation in Barangay Canapnapan, Corella, Bohol. Hired by the foundation in 1998, he maintains the net enclosure and its 100 Philippine tarsier inmates. He also serves as a resource person and guide to visitors and researchers at the Research and Development Center.
Pizarras once hunted tarsiers for a living. Since age 12, he gunned down or trapped tarsiers, exotic birds, monkeys, snakes and lizards for his father, a taxidermist who augmented the family income through the sale of the preserved kill. Pizarras himself caught and sold Philippine tarsier specimens to collectors, hobbyists and tourists for a living. . He became so adept at the task that he hunted tarsiers by scent, learning that the animals gave off a musk through glands located on their breasts. Then, he shot them out of the trees with air rifles, easily catching about 100 a month. At that time, stuffed tarsiers went for 300 pesos (about five dollars). For those who preferred live pets, catching them alive was a relatively straightforward undertaking. Trees were simply shaken until the tarsiers fell.
Pizarras slowly began to notice that he had to hike deeper into the forest to find one, unlike in the 1960s when one could snatch them off tree branches by the side of the road. He began keeping several of the species for feeding, breeding and display at backyard his residence in Corella, Bohol. He began to breed tarsiers in captivity so he could raise the animals he would stuff. His captive breeding program was successful that bred 20 Philippine tarsiers in captivity. He sent 10 live tarsiers bred this way to the Chicago Zoo in the United States in 1985.
Pizarras eventually gave up his air gun, formaldehyde and the other awful tools of his trade some time in the 1970s and devoted the rest of his life to trying to save the exotic mascot of the Philippines' receding tropical forests. He has since become an enthusiastic environmentalist and conservationist, going so far as to create out of whole cloth laws prohibiting the harming of tarsiers. The Philippine Tarsier Foundation Incorporated heard about his enthusiasm and recruited him as field supervisor of the sanctuary. "I love this job because it's actually a dream come true," Pizarras said, beaming. "Since I was small, I've always wanted to breed tarsiers, but we didn't have the money for the land. It's good that now, there are people who are as concerned."
Though Pizarras is not a biologist and completed only high school, he can churn out facts about the Philippine tarsier and its fight for survival as though he were a walking PTFI brochure. For his diligence and native knowledge of the creature, Pizarras has been featured on the National Geographic channel. The Reader's Digest also gave him an award in November 2000 as a "Hero for Today."
The indigenous knowledge Pizarras has learned about the Philippine tarsier that he shares with the visitors at the Philippine Tarsier Research and Development Center are that it is useless and doubly cruel to keep the animal as a pet because it is capable of "committing suicide" in captivity. Just to get out, it will bang its head on the cage until it dies. Pizarras said that he has witnessed this many times. If you frequently hold it in your hands, it will be under such stress that it will grow stiff and eventually stop breathing. Thus, touching the "sensitive" tarsier is a no-no in the sanctuary. It is very inviting to do so, especially since even at daytime, the animal is not easily scared by approaching people and tends to rest on tree trunks and twigs at eye level.
The tarsier, especially if it's a male, is also a territorial creature. A male would attack any young tarsier venturing into its territory and kill it with a fierce bite. "That's why when there's a newborn, we try to check on the position [of mother and offspring] three times a day," he said, adding that the male tarsier's murderous disposition precluded keeping it in a small, enclosed space. The creatures seem to have a good memory, too. "Because whenever there are guests, that's when their eyes stay wide open. If it's just me around, they give me a brief look and go back to sleep," he said. The tarsier mainly dines on insects, usually crickets, and frogs. Its chief predator, on the other hand, is the common house cat. The estimated 100 tarsiers in the PTFI sanctuary can climb over the surrounding seven-foot-high net fence to hunt elsewhere at night. But they almost always return before daybreak. The fence is actually more for keeping the cats out and the insects in, Pizarras explained. Thus, he and two other staff members have made it their daily morning routine to inspect the net for breaches. At night, with the help of strong fog lights, flying insects from neighboring hills are drawn to the sanctuary, providing the tarsiers a steady menu.
As an extra labor of love for his wards, Pizarras and his team bring in insect eggs that they find outside the sanctuary for hatching. Captivity itself is [the animal's] death sentence. It can be so sensitive that a camera flash can kill it. Incorrectly regarded by Filipinos as the world's smallest "monkey," it is really a cousin of the lemur and the tree shrew. An adult male with gray or reddish fur grows to about 130 grams (0.29 pounds), about the size of a human fist, and with its long, naked tail for balance it jumps like a frog across low-hanging tree branches at night. It eats about a 10th of its weight in moths, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and beetles. Left in the wild, tarsiers can live up to 15 years. Although technically it is not yet a part of the country's endangered species list, the government believes without human intervention it could disappear in a few years.
Hunting and trading in Tarsius syrichta, the species found in the Philippines, was banned in the mid-1990s, when Pizarras flew to Manila with two orphaned tarsier babies to meet Prince Charles, who was in the country, and enlisted the heir to the British throne's support to help save the species. In the wild, the territorial males attract four or five females who mate only during the full moon after a week of courtship. Each gives birth to a single young after a six-month pregnancy. The young tarsiers are pretty much on their own after six months. Raising tarsiers as pets is a cruel sport, said Pizarras, who insists the stressed-out animals actually commit suicide or otherwise will themselves to die inside their cages. They would smash their head on the bars in a bid to escape until they crack their skulls. He also insists the animal had the capacity to simply stop breathing (a more debatable proposition).
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