Tiny Primate, Thought Extinct, Found in Indonesia

December 21, 2008

Pygmy Tarsier, Thought to be Extinct, Found in Indonesia

Have you seen the Furby-like animal captured this summer in Indonesia? The pygmy tarsier is among the rarest of the tarsier species in Asia and the Pacific. In fact, many primatologists had written them off as extinct. But scientists recently announced that they’d captured three of them and released pictures of the pygmy tarsier, which is about the size of a small mouse. This was the first time in more than 70 years that the tiny creature was seen. The nocturnal primate lives in the forested highlands of Mount Rorekatimbo. According to Sharon Gursky-Doyen, a Texas A&M anthropologist who led the expedition, the tarsiers were found at elevations greater than 6,000 feet, in damp and dangerous terrain. Mount Rorekatimbo is in the Lore Lindu National Park in the Central Sulawesi area of Indonesia.

Furby, Made by Hasbro

Pygmy tarsiers usually measure less than four inches from head to tail, with most of that tail. They weigh less than two ounces. Only three other specimens of pygmy tarsiers have ever been collected: two were found in 1916 and 1930, while the third, a deceased specimen, was found by Indonesian scientists in 2000, in a rat trap on Mount Rorekatimbo. The 2000 finding spurried scientists to look for more pygmy tarsiers.

Unlike nearly all other primates, the pygmy tarsier has claws instead of fingernails. And unlike other tarsier species — including those that live farther down the mountainside — pygmy tarsiers don’t seem to mark their territory with a scent. They also don’t seem to vocalize with one another; however, scientists did see one of the tarsiers open its mouth in a manner which looked like it might be vocalizing. It’s possible that the tiny tarsier may call in high-pitched frequencies not heard by humans.

The research was funded by the Conservation International Primate Action Fund, the National Geographic Society, Primate Conservation Inc. and Texas A&M. About half of the world’s 634 primate species are in danger of becoming extinct, both from tropical rain forest habitat destruction and hunting. Primates are most at risk in Cambodia and Vietnam.

See pictures of a gorilla grieving over the death of her infant.

Photo credit: Texas A&M

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