November 20, 2008

Primitive primates

Tiny, long lost primate rediscovered in Indonesia, read the title of a news article published in Yahoo! News the other day. The news item, written by Will Durham and reported by Reuters, was bannered by a colored photo of what looked like a tarsier, a species of animal known to many Filipinos as the smallest monkey in the world. Indeed the news' subject was about a tarsier found by scientists in the island of Sulawesi that was purportedly last seen alive 80 years ago.

The article was instantly met by a barrage of negative comments from readers - mostly Filipinos - who complained of the seeming inaccuracy of the news. Filipinos, including I, are very familiar with the tarsier. We are taught about it in school and the animal is a regular fare in Philippine tourism. So, wonder of wonders why the tarsier would be rediscovered in Indonesia; when almost all tourists of Bohol (Filipinos and all) have had pictures of them with the primate clinging to their heads and shoulders?

The first few hundreds of comments to the news item did not only raise the same question but downright lambasted its author, Reuters, and even Yahoo for coming out with a story that's a big lie; the scientists themselves who were featured in the same article as the "rediscoverers" of the tarsier were branded as incompetent and ignorant. The Philippines was insulted big time, they said. The country of Indonesia was even criticized for allegedly orchestrating everything -- fabricating a sensational story with the ultimate aim of promoting its own tourism.


Then came the comments that began pointing out the errant judgment of many readers. The news after all was not referring to the same tarsier species as that found in the Philippines! Both monkeys' physical features may have looked the same but the article was in fact referring to the one called the pygmy tarsier. The pygmy tarsier is Tarsius pumilus while the Philippine tarsier is Tarsius syrichta; and there are about 6 other known species of the tarsier.

I could almost hear most of the article's critics simultaneously blurting very eye-opening uh-oh's. Well, I cannot blame them. Filipinos, who were the most vocal in raising a howl over the article, they are very nationalistic; sometimes to a fault and sometimes at the wrong time. They know many things about their country; and so at the slightest sign of misinformation they take it as a challenge to their own intelligence and dignity as Filipinos. I myself found the article inadequately written. Just about the only reference to the fact that there were other tarsiers in other places and that the news was not about them was this line: "The handful of tarsier species live on various Asian islands." An article of the same subject as reported by was more informative.

But then again, have we all not been reminded time and again to be more discerning about everything that we see, read and hear in the internet?

The Philippine Tarsier
[photo by: Ingrid Park]

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