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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Busuanga: Suffering Safari-ing Calauit

Giraffes in the Philippines a dictator's legacy

CALAUIT ISLAND, Philippines (AFP) - With a taste for tropical fruit and a reputation as thieves, a herd of giraffes on a remote Philippine island is one of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos's most intriguing legacies.

The 20 giraffes, along with dozens of zebra and antelope, are descendants of a boatload of animals imported from Africa in the 1970s - supposedly in a Noah's Ark-style effort to save them from extinction.

They were brought to tiny Calauit Island, where under a Marcos decree the locals were moved elsewhere to make way for the strange new inhabitants and bamboo forests were cleared so the lowlands resembled the savannahs of Kenya.

Today just over 100 African animals - roughly the same number as the original batch - roam the island.
Calauit Island situated in north western coast of Palawan, Philippines. It declared as a wildlife sanctuary and game preserve in 1977.[1]
The wild animals were imported from Africa in 1970s to save them from extinction. The imported animals include 20 giraffes, dozens of zebra and antelopes. Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos ordered the locals to move other places and then he ordered to clear the bamboo forests to make the place similar to the savannahs of Kenya. Today, the African animals still roaming around the island and the number of animals is roughly the same as the original number.[2]

My recollection of Calauit was during my college days. Everything is still vivid in my memories. In 1993 during our field biology class, the ten of us students, our Professor and her daughter, which was still in high school, braved the sea on a small boat to make our field trip at Calauit Island in Busuanga in northern Palawan. There was no flight to the island back in the day. The only way to get there is to ride a bus or jeepney to Taytay or El Nido. The bus ride from Puerto Princesa to Taytay was already a challenge back then. We stayed overnight in Taytay at the PSU Campus. It was already a challenge for young people like us to travel far north. It was an adventure, a whole lot different experience. Not much for me because I was raised in Araceli, another small island town in northern Palawan. I have experienced travelling on a boat on rough seas.

The next day, we had to take a tricycle to bring us to "Embarcadero", northwest of Taytay to get into our boat. Our banca, an outrigger boat, was perhaps a little bit bigger than the size of a regular boat. Our next stop was in Liminangcong, in El Nido town, which is already a couple of hours ride. We traversed the western Palawan sea on huge and sometimes converging waves. We had to cover ourselves with tarpaulin to keep us and our belonging from getting drenched. I believe almost everyone had been praying for dear life. You can't even see any shimmer of light or an island nearby, and that was a real horror for us all, but it looked like our boatmen were used to such weather. We passed by the Linapacan municipality, and it was already dawn when we reached another island, I think it was called Dicabaitot. Then we had another stop in Panlaitan somewhere in the municipality of Culion where we're able to cook our food and had to get some provisions. After over 24 hours on the rough sea and no proper meal or sleep, we finally arrived in Calauit island.

 to be continued...

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