The discovery was strange and amusing, but there was no happy ending. On June 21, caddies at the Manila Golf and Country Club in posh Forbes Park, Makati, found a most unusual animal clinging to the branches of a tamarind tree near their barracks: a tarsier (Tarsius syrichta), endemic to the Philippines and usually found only in the provinces of Leyte, Samar and Bohol.
The caddies quickly caught the tiny, large-eyed primate and put it in a cardboard box. The club management contacted the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, which sent personnel to collect it.
Veterinarians at the PAWB headquarters pronounced the adult male tarsier in a healthy but frazzled state. A search was begun for who may have brought it to Manila, the bureau director Mundita Lim having noted that there was “no way it could have gotten here on its own.” The search has since hit a dead end.
Meanwhile, preparations were made to fly the tarsier to its natural habitat. Everything was arranged, including the flight to Bohol, Lim said. But the creature known to be fragile and easily stressed was found dead in its cage the next day. “Its big appetite raised our hopes that it would be able to survive,” Lim said. “I am so disappointed because we really thought it was going to make it.”
This little tale is a grim reminder that keeping wild animals is illegal save for registered breeders and farms. The tarsier is ranked by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as a “near-threatened” species and is in fact protected under DENR Administrative Order No. 48 issued in 1991. It is listed among the species of which it is unlawful for any person, group or entity to collect and/or trade.
The sad fate of the tarsier found in an enclave of the rich and famous illustrates the constantly threatened situation of Philippine endemic species. This country is among only 17 “megadiverse” countries in the world, and, according to the DENR, it harbors more diverse life forms than any other country on a per-hectare basis. Scientists continue to discover new species here, such as the seven mouse species found in 2011 and the four river crab species found in 2012. But while the Philippines is tops in diversity, it is also tops in the neglect of its flora and fauna and other natural resources.
Many of these endemic species are on the verge of following the fate of the Panay fruit bat (Acerodon lucifer), a flying mammal found on the island of Panay and declared extinct in 1996. Among the critically endangered are those rare and proud creatures considered as Filipino wildlife treasures and part of our national identity, such as the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi), tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis) and freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis).
To be sure, the government and the private sector have engaged in conservation measures. The DENR has embarked on various projects, including the establishment in 2011 of nine more protected-wildlife areas. The most prominent of wildlife conservation efforts is spearheaded by the Philippine Eagle Foundation, which was founded in 1987 in Davao to save the bird of prey from extinction and propagate its kind. But there is a long road yet to go to nurse the Philippine eagle population back to a robust number.
There is an unfortunate disregard for wildlife in these parts, as shown in the discovery in 2011 of a dead Philippine eagle with a bullet in its carcass. The two-year-old bird had previously been found wounded, nursed to health, and returned to the wild. Even Philippine eagles raised in captivity, such as Kabayan, are not safe: Kabayan was accidentally electrocuted in 2005 after a year of life back in the wild. Other creatures have fared just as badly, or worse. Add to that the continuing trade in rare animals for steep profits.
And Filipinos are generally grossly unaware—or do not care—that it is a crime to own or trade in endangered species, let alone keep them as conversation pieces. It has become fashionable to keep snakes and certain exotic animals as pets, dooming these creatures to spend their lives away from their natural habitats simply for humans’ imagined pleasure. As the tarsier was, they are so far from home. The bullet wounds found in eagles and other wild (but fragile) creatures indicate the criminal attitudes that go with ignorance and plain cruelty.