Mission Impossible: finding a pigmy tarsier

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August 15th 2011
Published: August 15th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

I've just got into Palu, so I thought I'd just post a little preamble on the pigmy tarsier before I set off for Lore Lindu tomorrow. On my last visit to Sulawesi I briefly looked for and failed to find this critter in the mountains of Lore Lindu. It was a doomed attempt anyway given the short length of time I had, but it wasn't helped any by the hindrances of the National Park guide Idris. The story of that visit is here: http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Indonesia/Sulawesi/blog-422206.html (I don't know why this site doesn't link directly, but never mind).

What made the failure even more galling however was the discovery, months later back in New Zealand, that despite what I had been told at the National Park office in Palu it was actually not a requirement to be accompanied by a pricey and ineffectual guide on the Anaso Track at Lore Lindu because the Anaso Track isn't even inside the park boundaries (apparently)! It really is the case in Indonesia that you cannot believe anything you are told by anyone, and if you do find out the truth of something its usually too late to do anything about it. Still, this was good news for my return trip because it meant I could save a great deal of money and anguish by just trekking up the mountain and camping out there by myself. which is what I intend to do (with intentions not necessarily being the same as whatever happens in reality).

To recap the historical side, the pigmy tarsier was first discovered in 1916 on Mount Ranorano, with the second specimen not being collected until 1930 on Mount Rantemario. Then it basically disappeared for seventy years and although pretty much every primatologist who went to Sulawesi had a search for it at the known collection localities they all failed. So the general consensus became that either it had never existed at all or that it had become rather conveniently extinct in the meantime. Then in May 2000 just the third pigmy tarsier ever seen was found dead in a rat trap set by a rodentologist (or whatever rat-people are called) on Mount Rore Katimbo in Lore Lindu. Tarsier specialists descended on the mountain like a plague -- well, a very small and intermittent plague because there aren't really very many tarsier specialists around and most weren't all that eager about going to look for it, and as it happened all of the ones that tried failed to find any pigmy tarsiers anyway. It wasn't until 2008 that more pigmy tarsiers were finally rediscovered (er, for the fourth time....), and that's when I heard about it.

To give an idea of the near-insurmountable odds against me seeing a pigmy tarsier, the animal is not only tiny (10cm body length), arboreal and nocturnal, but also apparently occurs at very low population densities. It also probably calls at frequencies outside normal human hearing range, so you can't even hear them when they're around. The team that did the discovering in 2008 set up 276 mist nets in the cloud forest on Rore Katimbo. They caught a tarsier on the second night, then none for the next three weeks. In two and a half months on the mountain they caught -- wait for it -- a grand total of THREE pigmy tarsiers. They put radio collars on them to track their movements, and in 2010 published the first (and as yet, only) behavioural and ecological data on living pigmy tarsiers, in the International Journal Of Primatology (Grow & Gursky-Doyen if you want to look it up).

Really, I don't know why I'm bothering.

Still, the good thing with Lore Lindu is that even if I don't see the tarsier there are loads of other fantastic animals up there, and with five or six days I should see plenty.


15th August 2011

ha sounds like a good trip so far, im still considering Indonesia next year though from the sounds of things Sir Lanka may be better. well you just missed it, its snowing in wellington!

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