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An African safari in Palawan
Source: Inquirer
Author: Jon-Jon Rufino
Date: 1999-07-25
YES, we have giraffes, zebras, gazelle,

impala and the like in the Philippines.

Hard to believe. Why? How? Where?

Well, the why is supposedly in answer to an international call to

house endangered African animals in the late '70s. How they got

here is that they were shipped over from Kenya, by order of

then President Marcos, after he took some of his friends on a

safari there. And the where is Calauit, an island in Coron,

Palawan, the shipwreck-diving capital of the Philippines, and

home to one of our other national treasures, the dugong.

The most convenient way to get to

Calauit is through the Busuanga

airport, because the trip from Puerto

Princesa is tedious, although you

would be passing through the

wildest and most beautiful scenery

in the Philippines. The game

preserve is less than a two-hour

banca ride from any of the resorts in


The morning that I went, the water

was so calm that I could not help

taking a few pictures of the way the

waves were playing with the

reflections of the outrigger. And the beach of island is filled

with so many corals that snorkelers will have a hard time not

taking a dip in the clear water.

The wild menagerie

After a few minutes ride on the open-air bus that takes visitors

around the park, the scenery changes completely from tropical

beach to African savanna, with acres and acres of rolling fields

with mountains in the distance. Suddenly there is a ''Jurassic

Park''-like feel to holding on to the railings of the bus, scanning

the landscape for any sign of strange creatures.

Then the zebras come. We spot a couple grazing under the

shade of a tree. The guide lets us go down and take pictures, as

long as we give them a healthy space between us. When we get

too close, they bolt, though it is also a treat to watch them

gallop with their equine grace.

The gazelle we find in larger groups. There is one dominant male

surveying his dominion over several females. In the distance

other males who have challenged him but failed watch with

envy. It is good to be the king.

There are special areas for the smaller animals, those indigenous

to Palawan like the bearcat, but are also managed by the game


But the highlight of the trip has to be the giraffes, which we see

last roaming near the local office of the DENR. They may be a

bit shorter than what we expect--perhaps the shorter trees in the

Philippines means the giraffes here don't have to grow such

long necks--but their grace is indisputable. We attract them to

the bus with branches that we stick out. The guide warns us

about getting too close, but pretty soon we are all outside the

bus, feeding them by hand. The experience of interacting with

these gentle giants is akin to swimming with a whaleshark.

Some deeper issues

Some might wonder about the value of having a game preserve

like Calauit in the Philippines, which mixes together indigenous

and alien species. There are some very strong, very valid

arguments against doing that, and against the domestication of

wild animals in general, but it would be hard to deny that what is

offered in Calauit is so much better for the tourists and the

animals than a traditional zoo.

With the larger animals here, they try as best they can to give

them space in an environment that loosely approximates their

original environment. And they are diligent about monitoring

the health and population of the islands. But what happens in

the future, when these animals multiply beyond the game

preserve's carrying capacity because they have no natural

predators, is anyone's guess.

Unfortunately, as with almost all wild animals everywhere, even

in Calauit the animals have to contend with the expansion of

man. In the '70s, the administration paid off the residents of

Calauit to resettle elsewhere. After Edsa, many of them moved

back, claiming, probably justly, that they are human rights

victims. Since then there have been reports of poaching in the

game preserve, though they try to have as harmonious a

relationship with the fishermen that have returned as possible.

So for better or for worse,

we can have an

African-style safari

without leaving our

country. Of course, there

is still a lot missing. There

are no elephants, rhino or

hippopotamus. To really

complete the ecosystem,

we would have to throw

in lions, hyenas and

vultures, too, but then

Calauit would be too much like ''Jurassic Park,'' where the

attractions might sometimes eat the tourists.

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