|An African safari
|Author: Jon-Jon Rufino
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
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.