Tarsier, Indonesia

On Location: Trek to the Tarsiers

Pepper Trail|March 15, 2010|Blog Post

The day started with a scout to the small island of Lehaga, located off the northern tip of Sulawesi in the Gangga Island group. It was the firm belief of our expedition leader, Mike Messick, that this is pronounced “Ganja,” and that we needed to explore this region further. As it turned out, we spent a very mellow morning on Lehaga, where we met a most friendly and hospitable Indonesian host named Heri who oriented us to the best snorkeling spots and led a walk across the island. The nature walkers were treated to the acrobatic chasing and incessant squabbling of several groups of collared kingfishers, as well as views of two species of sunbirds and the Sulawesi endemic slender-billed crow. The snorkelers had a fine time exploring the reef and the powdery sand beaches of Lehaga, and the divers, led by Thomas’s unerring instincts, found a spectacular coral garden in a sandy flat that yielded ribbon eels, an eagle ray, and several species of mantis shrimp.

In the afternoon, we docked alongside at the busy port town of Bitung. One group set off for Tangkoko National Park to undertake the “Trek to the Tarsiers.” These tiny prosimians, with huge eyes and delicate long fingers, are active at night, and spend the day hiding in the complex niches and cavities of strangler fig trees. The outstanding Tangkoko park naturalists have discovered several of these trees, and guide visitors there. The only problem is: the tarsiers reveal themselves only at dusk, and to reach the trees at the right moment, we needed to hike a couple of miles through the rainforest in the heat of the afternoon, and then stumble back in the fading light of evening. And, of course, all without knowing whether the tarsiers would decide to cooperate on this particular day.

It all worked out perfectly. We had time for spectacular views of the Sulawesi black macaque—an impressive monkey whose black coloration and lack of a tail give it an ape-like look—as well as the rather less prepossessing marsupial called the cuscus, which combines the speed of a sloth with the appearance of a termite nest that has seen better days. We were also treated to extraordinary views of several of Sulawesi’s endemic birds, including the beautiful green-backed and lilac-eared kingfishers.

As we approached the tarsier area, our group divided and headed for two different trees. Both groups arrived just the light in the forest began to fade. Immediately, success! We all spotted the tarsiers, who were nestled in their niches, looking gravely at these sweaty, noisy, and wildly enthusiastic visitors. One tree contained at last four tarsiers, and the other at least five. After half an hour of observations and many, many photographs, we made our way out of the forest, to find that the local guides were waiting for us with a band, beer, and tuna sate with peanut sauce. All in all, it was an absolutely unforgettable day.

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