Sunrise view at the Tarsier Sanctuary Bio-Diversity Corridor Edit

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Eli Garcia  • Contributor
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Photo by the Provincial Government of South Cotabato

According to estimates, about 120 tarsiers are living in a 500-hectare habitat very close to a Blaan village. Since then, documenting the tarsier population has been ongoing but early estimates say it could be bigger than the tarsier population in the island of Bohol, where the primate is an icon. In one village in South Cotabato alone, 19 tarsier habitats have been identified so far. Tarsiers are territorial creatures so there are usually only a couple of them living in one habitat. Specifically, the Tarsiers can be found in Barangay Linan, Tupi which has been turned into the Linan Tarsier Conservation Sanctuary, efforts are also underway to create the Tarsier Trail which will allow guests to view the Tarsiers from a safe distance without disturbing them. In the Linan Forrest Park one can experience trekking, camping and sightseeing at Linan’s series of waterfalls.  Since their discovery by lumad residents in 2009, South Cotabato’s tarsiers have increasingly drawn attention among local tourists wanting to actually see the nocturnal creature.

Tarsier Monkey in the Philippines

Early estimates say that tarsier found in South Cotabato could be bigger than the tarsier population in the island of Bohol, where the primate is an icon.

The most salient element in the eco-tourism program for the tarsier sanctuary in Purok Silang was the decision of the LGU, following the recommendation of the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) of the MMPL, to close the 500-hectare area to mass tourism or walk-in tourists. Instead, the LGU, along with its partners , has designed an eco-tourism program for the Barangay Linan tarsier sanctuary called VOLUNTOURISM, coined from the words volunteers and tourism. Rolly Visaya, information officer of LGU Tupi and a staunch advocate for tarsier conservation, explained in a recent visit of the Philippine Information Agency 12-supervised Information Coordinating Network (ICON) 12 in the area, explained, “voluntourism is a program designed to link local, national and multi-national corporations and other interested groups and individuals to engage in the conservation of the Philippine Tarsier in the MMPL.”

“Voluntourism centers on encouraging tourists to volunteer for the rehabilitation and protection of the tarsier sanctuary, not on showcasing the tarsiers. Getting to see a tarsier is a bonus,” he told the visiting government information officers. Fortunately, during the ICON 12 “Dalaw Turo” in the area, a young tarsier was resting on a branch of a coffee tree only several meters from the community meeting hall. However, ICON 12 members were only allowed to see the tarsier after a reminder to strictly follow some rules: no sudden movements, no camera flashes, no noise.

Photo by the Provincial Government of South Cotabato

Visaya elaborated further that Swire Pacific Offshore (SPO), an international shipping company based in Singapore, has already joined in the voluntourism program by sending volunteers, mostly seafarers, to help in the conservation of wildlife habitat as a strategy to restore the forest cover. Volunteers conduct tree growing and tree monitoring activities, clean-up drives, nursery establishment and other activities in the area. They have also adopted freshwater turtles as a flagship specie.

Following this example, he said, other groups may adopt site – at least 1 hectare -- within the sanctuary and plant 500 indigenous tree species, which will be geo-tagged for monitoring. They may also conduct community outreach program such distribution of goods, school supplies, food, or sponsor scholarship of some young residents.

“Volunteers may also come to the community to help provide alternative sources of livelihood to the residents who had given up their stake over the tarsier habitat in favor of the conservation activity,” Visaya continued.

Birds nest fauna's is one of the habitats available in the Bio-Diversity Corridor

Photo by the Provincial Government of South Cotabato

Meanwhile, sensing the potential for an eco-tourism activity in the area and the pressing need for conservation of the habitat and protection for the rare species, the local government unit called for assistance from the Endangered Species International (ESI), a US-based global nongovernment organization actively involved in advocacy to reduce human-induced species extinction. In response, biologist Pierre Fidenci, president of ESI, and his team, came to the place around the last quarter of 2010 to conduct a research focused on the protection on the conservation of the tarsiers and its habitat. Results that study were used as basis for the planning and development of eco-tourism in the area.

Purok Bagong Silang is comprised of at about 30 households, whose main source of living is farming. With their farming activities within the tarsier sanctuary suspended, these residents need to shift to other sources of income. During the ICON 12 Dalaw Turo activity, a resident appealed for training that would improve the quality of their handicrafts made from bamboo and other indigenous materials as well as training on processing local produce such as coconut, root crops and others. Groups and individuals who want to join the voluntourism program may coordinate with the local government unit of Tupi, Visaya said. 

To know more about Tupi, South Cotabato, visit their official tourism website at www.visitSOX.com

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