Thursday, 20 Nov, 2008 Environment

Furbys Still Exist in Nature


Those who played with Furby toys, remember these nice fluffy creatures. As it turned out, their prototypes still exist in wild life. They're called pygmy tarsiers. This primate species was found in Indonesia although many scientists believed it became extinct. For more than 70 years scientists could not track down this tiny nocturnal animal that easily fits in a human palm. According to Texas A&M University, three pygmy tarsiers were captured on Mount Rorekatimbo in the National Park of Indonesia.

Sharon Gursky-Doyen, head of the expedition, explained that they found the tarsiers in the mountains at the height of 1,800 meters. Habitat conditions proved to be quite dangerous.

Pygmy tarsiers represent rare species inhabiting Asia and the Pacific region. They have big eyes which make them look like popular Furbys. But real tarsiers are considerably smaller in size weighing about 2 ounces and measuring 4 inches in length. Unlike talking Furby toys, they don't produce sounds.

The search for pygmy tarsiers began long ago. As the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species confirmed, two specimens of these animals were discovered in 1916 and 1930. Indonesian scientists managed to find the third one on Mount Rorekatimbo in 2000, but unfortunately it lied dead in a rat trap. However, primatologists didn't give up and continued looking for live tarsiers, but failed to find any.

Gursky-Doyen studies not only behavior of nonhuman primates, but also means of their conservation. She has spent many years learning how to trap different species of tarsiers. Together with her colleagues she set 276 mist nets to catch those three pygmy tarsiers which inhabited forested mountainsides. After that the animals were supplied with radio collars which helped to keep them under observation.

Pygmy tarsiers possess a number of features that distinguish them from the rest of primate species. They have claws in place of nails. But it's still unclear why they preserved this characteristic feature in the process of evolution. Besides, pygmy tarsiers don't mark their territory or produce sounds to attract each other. Scientists still try to understand the way they communicate. The key to this mystery is closer than we expect. Researchers noticed that tarsiers open their mouths in the wild, which means that they produce specific sounds which humans can't hear.

Gursky-Doyen hopes that government officials will double their efforts to protect tarsiers' habitats. These rare species are at great risk as about 60 villages are located on the territory of the national park and some of them are getting too close to mountain areas inhabited by different kinds of tarsiers. This time the research was supported by the Conservation International Primate Action Fund, the National Geographic Society, Texas A&M as well as Primate Conservation Inc..

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Posted by sharaeff

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