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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, September 11, 2017
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A slice of Africa

BUSUANGA, Palawan - “A slice of Africa in Busuanga.”

That is how Orlando Cruz, 62, one of the guides in the Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary, described to me this place located at the northwest tip of Busuanga, with a total land area of 3,760 hectares.

It is here where several African animals, particularly giraffes and zebras, had long colonized. The giraffes and zebras I saw over the weekend in Calauit are not caged, just like in the zoos, because they are living in the wild that has features closely resembling where their ancestors originally belonged.

Orlando, who had worked in the sanctuary since it started way back in 1976, recounted that the original African species were transported from Kenya, and they arrived in Calauit on board a ship owned by the late Salvador Benedicto from Negros Occidental.

Reportedly, former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. allowed the shipment of at least eight African species to the Philippines after authorities in Kenya asked that some of their native animals be relocated somewhere else to ensure genetic preservation as they were highly threatened of poaching at that time, Orlando said. However, there were also some claims that it was done out of the caprices of the Marcoses, who during those days, were enjoying lavish lifestyles. Other animals that were translocated included impala, gazelle, bushbuck, topi, waterbuck and eland, in addition to zebras and giraffes. Only four out of the eight translocated species are now surviving in the Calauit.

Marcos issued Presidential Proclamation 1578 that declared the entire Calauit Island as Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary on August 31, 1976, and from then on, the animals from Africa found their new refuge. It has open woodland ecosystems that usually characterize savannah ecosystems found in Africa.

The establishment of the sanctuary did not come easy, as there were social and economic tradeoffs. The original inhabitants of Calauit, comprised mostly from tribes of Tagbanwas, were relocated to the nearby island of Cullion, which was once considered the Leper Colony of the Philippines. The Tagbanwas expressed resistance to their relocation, as they considered the Calauit Island as their ancestral domain. Just the same, the Tagbanwas were evicted from the island, while the African species thrived in the area.

Right after the EDSA Revolution in 1986, the Balik Calauit Movement evolved and the Tagbanwas reclaimed the island as their “Lupang Ninuno”. I will try to gather more details and take up this issue in the near future.

Through time, the management of the sanctuary was transferred from one government agency to the other. Presently, it is under the provincial government of Palawan. It is becoming a popular tourist destination in Palawan, especially now that it is easily accessible from Coron, a bustling town in terms of tourism development, for only about one hour and a half drive and five minutes boat ride. A personnel told me that during the peak season of summer, the earning of the sanctuary goes as high as P600,000 a month.

I could understand why many are fascinated with the presence of giraffes and zebras in Calauit. A close encounter with these animals would show how graceful and beautiful they are since they are among the iconic animals of the world. I for one was captivated with their magnificent colors. The giraffes stand tall in full regal and charm, while the zebras look so classics in their black and white color.

The present stocks of these animals in Calauit are already in third generation, Orlando said. There are 32 individuals of giraffe and 24 individuals of zebra in the sanctuary. Orlando added there is already a need to introduce new stocks of these species, as inbreeding is no longer a remote possibility.

What is also of most interest to me about Calauit Island is the presence of endemic species that are only restricted in the Calamianes Group of Islands, like the Calamian Deer, which is already classified as critically-endangered. This kind of deer could not be found elsewhere in the world, and they are equally interesting to see as they move from one place to the other in herd. Other endemic species found in the island are Palawan pangolin, Palawan bearded pig, Palawan porcupine, Civet cat, and Mouse deer.*

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