Foreign group cleared to conduct tarsier research in Mt. Matutum

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/3 Feb) – Foreign experts have been cleared to conduct a one-year study on tarsier, the world’s smallest primate, reportedly endemic in Mt. Matutum, South Cotabato’s landmark peak.

Alfredo S. Pascual, regional director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Central Mindanao, said a Wildlife Gratuitous Permit was issued late last month to Endangered Species International, a California-based conservation group.

“The permit would allow the group to conduct research for the possible conservation of the tarsiers (which have been monitored to live in Mt. Matutum),” Pascual said.

Biologist Pierre Fidenci, Endangered Species president, said their study aims to assess the tarsiers’ distribution, population size and density, habitat association, and status in Mt. Matutum, a recognized protected landscape.

Fidenci said they plan to establish a core conservation center at Sitio Bagong Silang in Barangay Linan, Tupi town in South Cotabato “to better protect their habitat and to prevent the tarsiers from total extinction.

Rolly T. Visaya, Tupi town information officer, said that residents have been reporting about the presence of tarsiers in Mt. Matutum but no documentation and study has been conducted ever since.

He said that Endangered Species’ interest in conserving tarsiers in Mt. Matutum was aroused by the initial visit of Fidenci in nearby General Santos City two years ago.

Fidenci said the non-profit organization is committed in reversing the trend of human-induced species extinction, saving endangered species, and preserving their vital ecosystems.

The foreign biologist noted he was awed by the “verdant forest” in Mt. Matutum that he went to the foot of the mountain and there learned that tarsiers could be found in the area.

On that first visit, Fidenci recalled trying but failing to see any tarsier.

The survey for tarsiers will involve walking transects, or straight paths that cut through the forest, at night using a torch light to locate the tarsiers.

Tarsiers do not have a sensitive reflective layer so locating them “has more to do with the luck of intercepting them along a transect,” Visaya said.

Tarsiers will be captured through mist nets and will be fitted with radio transmitters so they could be tracked for the next two months. Those without transmitters will be marked with colored plastic rings.

In 2009, the indigenous people of Sitio Bagong Silang in Linan, Tupi, South Cotabato captured a tarsier along with three grass owls. This led to the discovery of the tarsier sanctuary in Linan.

There one can find the tarsier anytime of the day in the wild, said Visaya, noting the primates’ habitat showed signs of disturbance brought by human pressures evidenced by deforestation and conversion of forest lands into agricultural use.

By doing the research, Fidenci said they hope to save the tarsiers in Mt. Matutum from extinction

The Philippine tarsier, which has brought fame to Bohol, is one of the country’s primary flagship species for conservation.

But very little is reportedly known about its taxonomic diversity and conservation status and surveys are urgently needed throughout its range, including Mindanao, Visaya said.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the Philippine tarsier (Tarsius syrichta) has been classified as “near threatened.” (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)