Eco-tourism for tarsiers possible

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Sunday, February 26, 2012


A US-based conservation group has launched a reforestation project in Mt. Matutum in South Cotabato to protect a population of Philippine tarsiers that call the forest near the volcano their home.

The reforestation project is part of the Mt. Matutum Protected Landscape research and conservation program by the Endangered Species International (ESI), a group that is based in San Francisco, California, USA.

Pierre Fidenci, ESI president, said the group is planting 400 seedlings of endangered tree species to protect the habitat of Philippine tarsiers (Tarsius syrichta).

“Tarsiers live in secondary and primary forests, so if there is no forest, they are gone. Our project is located in an area that used to be covered by giant trees and we are planting trees in open areas (like grasslands) and where some canopy already exists. The goal is to increase natural forest coverage to avoid erosion and landslides and to bring back biodiversity,” he told Sun.Star Cebu in an e-mail.

Trees to be planted by ESI include nabol, (Elaeocarpus gigantifolius), Philippine teak (Tectona philippinensis), white lauan (Shorea contorta), molave (Vitex parviflora) and narra (Pterocarpus indicus).

Apart from Bohol and Mindanao, Fidenci said, the Philippine tarsier is also found in Samar and Leyte. But because of remaining forests in Mindanao, the species has better chances of surviving there.

ESI has partnered with the Municipal Government of Tupi and the indigenous community of B’laans to implement the research and conservation project. The B’laans plant the trees and monitor the growth of the seedlings.

Fidenci said the conservation project will eventually include an eco-tourism component that will benefit the community.

Unlike mass tourism, the future eco-tourism project will be a destination where people “can enjoy and learn about nature,” he added.

Fidenci said mass tourism has adverse effects on the behavior of tarsiers, which are nocturnal creatures that feed on insects.

“If you want to show a tarsier, it should only be from a distance,” he said, citing the tarsier sanctuary in Corella, Bohol that is run by the Tarsier Foundation.

He said human interaction with the wild creatures should be kept at a minimum so as not to stress the animals.

While income from tourism can help sustain conservation efforts and make concerned communities self-reliant, Fidenci said tourism activities should be sustainable.

“We must adhere to the principle of sustainable tourism, which involves strict enforcement of laws, protecting the tarsier’s habitat and reforestation, while creating livelihood opportunities for communities,” he said.

“In any community, you will always have people who take the wrong path. That’s why law enforcement is so important. We do not want tarsier to be shown in cages along the roads; that’s revolting and it is destructive tourism,” he added.

ESI seems to have found the perfect partner in the B’laan tribe, whose deities are related to nature and other life forms.

Fidenci said the reforestation project is a way of strengthening the B’laan people’s culture.

ESI, however, acknowledged that reforestation programs in the Philippines are being hampered by violation of land rights, overpopulation and poverty.

The ESI conservation program is also supported by the Provincial Government of South Cotabato, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 26, 2012.

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