21 November 2008

Abundant or Rare?

Pgymy Tarsier (Tarsius pumilus), Data Deficient

The Pygmy Tarsier, thought by some to be extinct, has been rediscovered. This giant-eyed, four inch long primate lives on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, and was previously known only from a few specimens collected for a museum in 1921. In 2000, scientists accidentally trapped and killed one, while studying rats.

Determined to learn more about these creatures, Sharon Gursky-Doyen set out to find them. With the help of her graduate student Nanda Grow, a team of locals, and a large number of mist-nets (very fine netting for catching small animals and birds), two males and one female were captured and fitted with radio collars.

So far, there are more questions than answers. Why do Pygmy Tarsiers have claws instead of nails, as most primates do? Why don't they call to each other or mark their territory with scent? (Gursky-Doyen thinks they may be vocalizing at frequencies out of the range of human hearing). How many Pygmy Tarsiers are still out there and where exactly do they live?

This is perhaps the most important question. Listed as Data Deficient by the IUCN, Pygmy Tarsiers may be on the brink of extinction. With fragmented habitat and humans encroaching on their space, they might be extinguished like a match in the wind. Or, they might be numerous and widespread, and simply very hard to observe, since they live in the high mountains and only come out at night.

Gursky-Doyen and Grow are working on a paper that will hopefully answer some of these questions. They hope that whatever happens, the rediscovery of this species will encourage government officials to offer it some protection. Although part of its range is within the 2000 square kilometers of Lore Lindu National Park, it shares that space with 60 villages, some of which are expanding into the mountains.

If you want to help the Pygmy Tarsier, you can donate to the Nature Conservancy, which is working to protect Lore Lindu National Park. Make sure to direct your donation to Indonesia.

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