Nick Baker's Wierd Creatures - Friday October 12

nick baker’s weird creatures
the real gremlin (2/8)

Continuing his second series of compelling nature documentaries, Nick Baker goes on the trail of another strange beast from a far-flung corner of the globe. In tonight’s edition, Nick travels to the remote jungles of South-East Asia to meet a very bizarre creature indeed: the tarsier, one of the tiniest primates on the planet, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the mythical gremlin.

Nick is in the Tangkoko nature reserve on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. A breathtaking array of species share this tropical paradise, which is enveloped in dense rainforest and surrounded by three vast volcanoes. The tarsier is a nocturnal treedwelling primate which Nick knows will prove very difficult to find. He begins his quest at dawn, when the tarsiers of the rainforest should be returning to their canopies after an evening spent foraging for food. Dawn is also the time when the forest is at its loudest, as both birds and mammals join forces to create a incredible cacophony. Above the din Nick can just make out the distinctive ‘dueting’ calls of the tarsier and spot a few tarsier-like shapes bounding through the gloom. “There are gremlins all around us!” Nick whispers in excitement.

The tarsier is rare amongst primates in that it is totally carnivorous. It is also well camouflaged and is only 10cm in stature. It also has the ability to leap a staggering 40 times its own body length. Nick knows he will need a local guide with plenty of experience if he is to meet his miniature quarry. Fortunately, he can call upon the assistance of guide and conservationist Yunnus. “Hopefully he’ll share with me some trade secrets of how to find a tarsier,” says Nick. Yunnus advises that they return at dawn to catch the tarsier, and begin by sniffing out its distinctive smell against the trees they inhabit. Smells are important territorial markers for the tarsier –a tree that carries a tarsier’s unique odour warns the other tarsiers that this tree is ‘taken’.

As well as the many predators that hunt them, tarsiers must also evade the island’s poachers and trappers, which still exist despite the ever-growing tourist interest in these fascinating creatures. “Key conservationists, including Yunnus,” explains Nick, “are trying to persuade the hunters that the tarsiers are worth more to them if left in the trees than in their cooking pots.”

Another incredible facet to the tarsier is its massive, bulging eyes that it needs to see in the dark. Unlike many nocturnal animals, the tarsier is not equipped with a specialised layer of retinal cells which allow animals to capture light more effectively –due to the theory that tarsiers were once active in daylight. When they became nocturnal, they compensated for the lack of these cells by developing supple vertebrae in their necks that allowed them to rotate their heads nearly 360 degrees –not unlike the owl. “These characteristics have arisen independently in a bird and in a primate,” explains Nick.

Nick’s adventure takes a new direction when he receives a tip-off from a local conservationist that there may be a unique species of tarsier on the neighbouring island of Bunaken. However, he will need plenty of local guidance and a little bit of luck if he is to get up close and personal with this most fascinating of species.

About the author

  • nick bosworth

    great show,loved it, well shot and funny.

  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • ITV1
  • ITV2
  • 4
  • E4
  • Film4
  • More4
  • Five
  • Fiver
  • Sky1