Osama’s death hampers foreign research project on tarsiers

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/9 May) – A foreign conservation group has cancelled a research project on tarsiers in Mt. Matutum, South Cotabato’s landmark peak, for fear of retaliatory attacks from supporters of the slain Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Tupi Mayor Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. said in a statement the California-based Endangered Species International (ESI) informed the local government unit that the research project was suspended following the killing of bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan early this month.

US President Barack Obama had confirmed the death of the Al Qaeda leader, hence raising fears of global terror attacks from bin Laden’s supporters.

Tamayo said that two London-based researchers have failed to secure a travel clearance to Mindanao due to security concerns.

“Our researchers could not get an approval from their university to come to Mindanao due to safety issues. [But] we will be working to get approval from their university so we can commence the research,” the mayor quoted French scientist Pierre Fidence, ESI president, as saying.

The extremist Abu Sayyaf, which is allegedly affiliated with Al Qaeda, operates in Mindanao but they are not known to go around in this part of the island.

The tarsier research project in Mt. Matutum should have started on May 5 if not for the death of bin Laden, Tamayo said.

The local government unit earlier restricted the capture of tarsiers in the locality in line with the research project of Fidenci’s group.

Early this year, the regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources cleared ESI to conduct a one-year study on tarsier, the world’s smallest primate, reportedly endemic in Mt. Matutum.

Alfredo Pascual, DENR regional director, said they issued a Wildlife Gratuitous Permit to the group, which would allow the conduct of a research for the possible conservation of the tarsiers in the area.

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

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

He said ESI’s interest in conserving tarsiers in Mt. Matutum was aroused by the initial visit of Fidenci in this 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.

In 2009, the indigenous people of Sitio Bagong Silang in Barangay Linan captured a tarsier along with three grass owls.

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.

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)