Asian Mammals, Asian Wildlife, Wildlife
Comments 23

Western Tarsier – Five in One

Western Tarsier Horsfield's Tarsier Kinabatangan Sabah Borneo Malayia Primate

“Our Simpalili, better known to us as Lili the Simp, was the best endurance flagpole sitter in all of North Borneo. He was brought to us from the jungle clinging to a long stick, and his expression of strained affability, and his determination not to leave his stick, always reminded me of the expressions and actions of human contestants in American endurance contests” – Agnes Newton Keith, Land Below the Wind

The variety of life in the Bornean rainforests is truly baffling. Especially the primates are well represented with for example the big-nosed Proboscis, the cheeky Macaque, agile Gibbon and the human-like Orang Utan, but although they are all fascinating in their own way, the Western Tarsier – the island’s smallest primate and mammal – was our favourite by far: just one look in its big eyes simply makes you want to cuddle this adorable prosimian.

During the day Western Tarsiers (Cephalopachus bancanus borneanus) sleep on the vines and creepers of the dense forest undergrowth – at nighttime they become active to forage on insects and small vertebrates while showing off their extraordinary leaping skills. Their body is perfectly designed for this hunting lifestyle with big owl’s eyes, bat’s ears, a long rat-like tail, a monkey’s body and the padded fingers of a frog – physical treats that give this tiny primate its otherworldly look and its apt nickname ‘Five-in-One’. The Western Tarsier is one of Borneo’s wildlife icons that features high on many a bucket list, however, as they’re small and nocturnal spotting meant hard work during the evening walks. After two sightings at the Kinabatangang Nature Lodge we started to take its presence almost for granted, only to find out later that some experienced guides had never managed to find them in the wild – we’re therefore still over the moon we managed to get that one excellent shot!


    • Thank you Sue. I wasn’t that familiar with Tarsiers either until the he National History Museum (Naturalis) in my hometown Leiden recently used it in advertising I new exhibition on a massive billboard.

  1. shungphotography says

    A great shot of a rare and cute creature. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Congratulations on catching this little cutie. When I was in Costa Rica, we went to the rain forest and if we hadn’t had a guide doing the spotting, we would have missed so much!


    • That’s so true Janet – an experienced guide in such an unknown environment is indispensable. Thank you for the visit and welcome to iAMsafari.

  3. Girl Gone Expat says

    Wow, look at those eyes, definitely reveals it as being nocturnal:) How small is it approximately?

      • Girl Gone Expat says

        Only 13 cm! Much smaller than I was expecting. No wonder it is difficult spotting them:)

      • Their big eyes are they only way to find them really – they do reflect wonderfully in the light of a torch 🙂 After that you have to be careful with sudden movements or flash photography as they’ll leap away quickly.

    • It certainly was Terry, one of those what I call ‘fist-pump’ moments – for a photographer and wildlife-lover though 🙂

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    • Thank you so much again! Those eyes are the biggest of any mammal compared to their body size – each eye weights more than its brain!

  5. You were able to find them so easily because I call it ‘hungry eyes’. Its when your at a new place or are exploring and just want to see EVERYTHING. I assume the guides don’t see them often because they work there and after some time when you see trees every day its hard to pick out small details.

    I sadly suffer from the ‘wonton hungry eyes’ which makes me stare at my intended subject with a drooling expression..And it makes me buy things.

    I’m not really a monkey person but between these cuties and lemurs, we could say I like them.
    Good post!

    • Thank you for your nice comment! I never looked at it this way but it could be true – maybe we just are not focused enough after wandering around some time at the same place.

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