Washington, Nov 19 : A long lost group of primates not seen alive in 85 years has now been discovered by a research led by a Texas A and M University anthropologist.
Called pygmy tarsiers, the furry Furby/gremlin-looking creatures about the size of a small mouse and weighing less than 2 ounces, were lost in oblivion since they were last collected for a museum in 1921.
While a large number of scientists thought they were extinct, two Indonesian scientists trapping rats in the highlands of Sulawesi accidentally trapped and killed a pygmy tarsier in 2000. In late August, Sharon Gursky-Doyen and graduate student Nanda Grow, along with a team of locals trapped three of the nocturnal creatures in Indonesia.
The presence of claws instead of nails is the main distinguishing feature of pygmy tarsiers, which makes the species different from nearly all other primates, which have nails and not claws, said Gursky-Doyen.
She thinks that the claws may be an adaptation to the mossy environment.
In a period of more than two months, two males and one female were trapped on Mt. Rore Katimbo in Lore Lindu National Park in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Using approximately 276 mist nets, the scientists captured the creatures and then attached radio collars to their necks to keep a check on their movements.
The moist mountainous terrain at heights of 7,000 to 8,000 above sea level proved tricky to navigate, and the nocturnal nature of the animals added another element of danger.
"It was always foggy and wet, so you had to be careful not to get hypothermia. And the moss was so slippery, we were always struggling to stay upright," said Gursky-Doyen.
In fact, she is eager to return to gain more first-hand knowledge about the creatures and work toward their preservation.
Now, Gursky-Doyen and Grow are drafting a paper that represents the first behavioural and ecological data on this living population of pygmy tarsiers.
Gursky-Doyen hopes that the Indonesian government will now protect the species from the encroaching development that is occurring in the range of this species within Lore Lindu National Park. "There are still primates waiting to be discovered in Indonesia. Not all have been seen, heard and described," she said.