Cute Animal in Danger: Pygmy Tarsiers

| Tue Sep. 29, 2009 3:56 AM PDT

The pygmy tarsier, one of the world's most endangered primates, was thought extinct until 2000, when one of them accidentally ended up dead in a rat trap. The pygmy tarsier lives 7,000 feet above sea level in the Indonesian jungle, and weighs only 50 grams: about the same as three tablespoons of sugar. These pint-sized mammals have such huge eyes that they can't turn them very well: instead, they can turn their heads 180 degrees. Some have called the big-eyed animals "real-life gremlins," thought pygmy tarsiers definitely eat after midnight (they're nocturnal, and like insects and fruit) and have specially dense fur to keep them dry and warm in their moist, cool climate.

In 2008, a two-month expedition by Texas A&M researchers used 276 nets in an attempt to capture a pygmy tarsier. Eventually, they netted three (one got away) and fitted them with tracking devices. It didn't go smoothly. "I have the dubious honor of being the only person in the world to have bitten [by a pygmy tarsier]," the expedition's lead researcher, Sharon Gursky-Doyen, told LiveScience. "I was attaching a radio collar around its neck and while I was attaching the radio collar he bit me [on the finger]." That particular tarsier, the researcher reported, was later eaten by a hawk.

Gursky-Doyen has said that she hopes the team's research will help nudge the Indonesian government to protect the species. “They [tarsiers] always look like they have a perpetual smile on their face, which adds to the attraction."

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