With bat ears, suction cup–like fingers, and giant golden eyes, the creatures would be easy to mistake for extras on a sci-fi movie set. But in fact, tarsiers are primates and distant relatives of humans.
“They really look like little aliens jumping from tree to tree,” says Gab Mejia, a National Geographic Explorer and photographer based in the Philippines.
The Philippines’ 7,600-plus islands are the cradle for a mind-boggling number of diverse species. According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, five per cent of the world’s plant species live in the Philippines. And nearly half of the creatures found on these islands exist nowhere else.
“Everywhere you go in the Philippines, you’re going to be surrounded by nature,” Mejia says. “Each island you travel to will have different species.”
Island living tends to encourage speciation—or the divergence of one species into two or more lineages. But this ecological paradise is also under attack, with more than 700 of its native species considered threatened by extinction, as a result of overharvesting, habitat loss, and habitat fragmentation. And the global pandemic may be making things even worse, as conservation organisations have noted upticks in both illegal fishing and poaching of rare plants.
In recent years, home-grown efforts to save many of these creatures and their habitats have proliferated. And when it is done sustainably, biodiversity tourism at national parks can help boost these efforts by channeling money to local conservation groups, ensuring that they have enough support to fund patrols, buy tracts of land, and even breed rare species in captivity.
COVID-19 has put a damper on travel, but once it’s safe, conservation-minded travellers can discover these four national parks in the Philippines that host four of the rarest yet charismatic wildlife found only here.
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