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Published July 4th 2016
A fascinating creature that can't be caged
Tarsier Sanctuary On the island of Bohol in the Philippines, it won't be long before you're bombarded with images and paraphernalia featuring the cute "Gizmo" like creature the tarsier (pronounced tarj-e-ar).
Tarsier at the Tarsier Sanctuary, Bohol, Philippines. Photo by Jade Jackson Photography
These tiny creatures are the world's oldest living primates. Nocturnal, by day at the Tarsier Sanctuary, you'll find them attached to a branch, lazily eyeing off curious tourists. Come night, they can be found jumping from tree to tree chasing down insects to eat. They are the only primate known to eat live prey. They can also turn their heads nearly 360 degrees.
According to a factsheet at the sanctuary, If kept in captivity, so depressed are tarsiers by the idea of a life in captivity, they will commit suicide by holding their breath or banging their head until they pass out, rather than face a life stuck in a cage.
Until the Tarsier sanctuary was opened, many tarsiers died in captivity so curious tourists could gawk at them in tiny cages. Thankfully, the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary takes their role of conservation seriously and with pride.
How do I see one?
Tarsier, Tarsier Sanctuary, Bohol, Philippines. Photo by Jade Jackson Photography.
Once you purchase an entry ticket to the Tarsier Sanctuary, a guide will walk you through the enclosure. A large area has been fenced off from predators as a means to protect and further study these adorable little creatures. However they can still escape at night to hunt.
The guides know exactly where they are so you will have opportunity to get up close to the tarsiers to take photos. Just don't use a flash. You're encounter will last about 30 minutes and is on dirt trails which will be muddy if there has been recent rain.
The sanctuary also offers night tours which is not guaranteed to see a tarsier because they are hunting, but if you do, it will be far more active than during the day. These tours cost PHP500 (approx AUD15) and must be booked in advance. Maximum two people per night tour.
Volunteer programs are available for those interested as well. Best to get in touch via their website.
I recommend watching the documentary video either before or after your encounter (you may have to ask the staff to switch it on) as it contains fascinating insights into these tiny primates.
Unfortunately there were minimal souvenirs for sale when I visited. The department store in Tagbilaren (in the same shopping centre as McDonald's) has nearly a whole floor dedicated to tarsier souvenirs.
How to get there and where to stay
Bohol South Beach Hotel. Photo by Jade Jackson Photography.
To get to the sanctuary, you can either take a private car with a driver from your hotel (approx AUD120 from Alona) or hire a scooter (ApproxAUD15) and drive yourself as I did.
From Tagbilaran (main city with an airport in Bohol) it's approximately 30 minutes and is an easy ride, just watch the potholes. You can easily do the Chocolate hills and Tarsier sanctuary in a single day.
There's only 3 main roads out of Tagbilaran so it's easy to find your way. Take the Tagbilaran to Loboc via Corella Road. There are signs before you get there. Along the dirt road go past the first building until you get to the carpark.
Where to stay
There's plenty of guesthouses but little reason to stay in Tagbilaran. Most tourists head to Alona Beach on Panglao Island which has plenty of accommodation and restaurants. I stayed at Bohol South Beach Hotel which was further away and much quieter. You simply can't beat the views.
I think the best way to see one is in photos. We must all be aware of not disturbing these unusual creatures. Hopefully tourists respect the advice of sanctuary keepers and do not try to take them as pets. Modern photography allows us a very clear view. That is fantastic for me.