The Tarsiers of Sarangani: Meeting Mal

babytarsier –

by Rex Godinez Ortega

[This is an old piece I wrote for Mindanews (mindanews.com) back in 6 April 2002]

MALUNGON, Sarangani — No, it’s not a shortcut for the name of the place where these cute critters have just been recently discovered.

And no, it’s not a contraction of the word “malas” (bad luck) either.

Though in possession of a charming pair, my half B’laan host here, Guillermo Constantino, a former clerk of court whose mother is a B’laan princess and whose brother Felipe is the incumbent vice governor, has no intention of keeping them as such. He is more interested in proving a point: that tarsiers are not the monopoly of Bohol.

That piece of good news brought me all the way from Davao City to here (a good three hours away) to try to see for myself if this species was the same as the Philippine Tarsier (Tarsius syrichta), the much celebrated but, considered threatened, Philippine wildlife.

Of course, I’m not a scientist. But the fact that my father is one and that I’ve been to Bohol to see the tarsiers several times already was license enough for me to make the attempt.

Besides, this was very good news. So good in fact, it puts a strain on one’s journalistic morals.

Anyway, I digress. When I finally met Mal, it was greedily chomping on a still kicking grasshopper a third of its size. It was 6 in the evening of Friday and it was feeding time for these nocturnal creatures. After spending the whole day sleeping, this big, fluffy tarsier was naturally hungry when waking up, I assumed.

Its companion in the cage was relatively smaller and obviously couldn’t match its five grasshoppers-and three lizards-an hour eating record.

They both haven’t been named yet. Something to do with a B’laan belief of not giving human names to animals they haven’t understood yet.

Trying to be a scientist, I enthusiastically jotted down my observations, ascribing the voracious appetite, more aggressive behavior, reddish brown color and superior size to characteristics of a male tarsier.

The smaller and duller colored one was voted immediately as the female by everyone, including Guillermo Katu Constantino, the tarsiers’ host.

Imagine our surprise the next morning when the “big boy” suddenly turned out to be a female. The sight of a wet black and brown tiny tarsier coming out of it was testament enough to this.

The bleary-eyed little tyke seemed more dazed from all the licking its mama gave it than with the sight of six grown men with their jaws dropping – who formed the line-up of its impromptu welcoming committee – staring at it through the nylon net.

Watching the whole spectacle was an experience I surely doubt can be repeated in my life. It was such a rare event that even the B’laans living near a watershed whom I interviewed earlier that morning could not recall having seen Mals together with their babies in their brief encounters in the bushes and jungles.

So rare was the event that even the reclusive Constantino went against tradition and named the baby after me – Tarsius Rex.

For a lowlander (and outsider I might add) like me, who tried hard to be a scientist like his father, for even just a night and a day, it was an honor. (Rex G. Ortega)

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About Recoy

Contrary to popular belief, he is not anti-social. Just selectively social. And he has selected to socialize with words. [Recoy is the Iligan-based journalist and blogger, Rex Godinez Ortega.]
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