As if finding squirrels weren’t unusual enough in highly urbanized Metro Manila, the posh Manila Golf and Country Club in Forbes Park, Makati City, on Friday yielded another out-of-place creature: a tarsier.
The tarsier, one of the smallest known primates in the world, was found by the golf club’s caddies before noon on Friday, general manager San Agustin Albina told the Inquirer in a phone interview. The saucer-eyed creature was found clinging to the low-lying branches of a tamarind tree near the caddies’ barracks, he added.
Though squirrels have become regular residents in trees within the country club, it was the first time a tarsier has been found in the premises, the club official said.
“It was my first time to see one and I didn’t even see it in Bohol (where tarsiers are usually found) but here [in Metro Manila],” an amused Albina said.
He said they had no idea how the creature got into the golf club but surmised that it could have escaped from neighboring residences where it might have been kept as a pet.
It might have climbed a tree but was chased down to the lower branches by the squirrels, Albina said. “The caddies decided to capture the tarsier before the squirrels or stray cats could hurt it,” he added.
Albina said they immediately called the the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (DENR-PAWB) to take custody of the animal.
“It seems healthy, but we don’t know what to feed it. We [waited] for the PAWB, who could take care of it better,” Albina said of the creature that had sat quietly inside a cardboard box lined with netting before the PAWB picked it up.
PAWB official Theresa Mundita Lim promptly sent veterinarian Esteven Toledo to examine the tiny primate after Sen. Loren Legarda called her up for assistance.
“First, it will need a health check,” Lim said of the tarsier. “We’ll have to find out if it’s healthy and in good condition. And if it’s healthy, then it will be transported and possibly reintroduced to the wild.”
Lim said the PAWB would also have to determine if the tarsier was a Philippine species and investigate how it got to Forbes Park.
“There’s no way it could have gotten there on its own,” she said, adding that a tourist might have smuggled out the creature and decided to keep it as a pet, and that it might have escaped.
Tarsiers can leap from tree to tree but are not known to travel long distances, Lim said.
The DENR-PAWB veterinarian, who came early evening Friday to pick up the tarsier, echoed Lim’s view, saying there was no known tarsier population in Metro Manila. “We believe someone living in Forbes Park [could] have been keeping it and that it escaped,” Toledo said.
But the DENR also noted that a baby tarsier was spotted at singer Jose Mari Chan’s house in Forbes Park a month ago, but that it had died by the time the agency came to retrieve it.
Toledo said that keeping wildlife is illegal, except among registered breeders and wildlife farms. He added that keeping tarsiers as pets is highly unadvisable because “they are highly strung and sensitive.”
Because the tarsier “had already undergone enough stress,” including during transport, Toledo said the DENR-PAWB was careful not to touch it any further. It was kept in a box during transport to prevent further handling,” the veterinarian said.
Though they could not handle the creature to determine if it was male or female, Toledo said it was an adult and seemed alert.
But the vet declined to state categorically if the tarsier was healthy, saying it will be examined over the weekend. “We have to check first because it could be malnourished,” Toledo said. With a report from DJ Yap