Giraffes!

February, 2018

 

Giraffes are on my mind, hence I called Rolando, my long suffering videographer and cameraman, and we set out for Calauit. Calauit is an island, or almost an island since it is connected by a finger of land, off the coast of Busuanga, Northern Palawan, the western most frontier of the Philippine archipelago.
 
This is an amazing place... and story. Back in the 1970’s the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos instructed his staff to search for a likely island to populate with African animals. Calauit had a topography and climate similar to the animals’ native Kenya, and only a mere 250 families! So Marcos shipped off the residents to nearby Halsey island, stripped Calauit of bamboo and other growth and sent his people to Kenya to source the animals. 15 different species of African wildlife were shipped out on a chartered vessel from Port Talbot and 15 days later arrived in Calauit.
 

Meanwhile back in Halsey island there were murmerings. Nothing would grow on the volcanic island and the Calauit tribespeople looked longingly north and requested to return to their island. Marcos refused this and subsequent requests and Calauit remained the exclusive habitat of the African menagerie. In 1986 People Power ousted Marcos and welcomed in the widow of anti-Marcos hero Ninoy Aquino, President Cory Aquino. The tribesmen seized the opportunity of this democratic restoration and lobbied the government to allow their return.

Thirty years on it is not clear who living on Calauit are tribal descendants who are not. Schools, farms and resorts are sprouting up and there is no clear delineation separating the animals from human development. Marcos unwittingly created a miniature Africa in more ways than one. Without a clearly defined area reserved for the animals, there are significant issues of human wildlife conflict. Giraffes and zebras are being gunned down by locals, either in anger at animals stealing their harvest or in protest to their presence, or even some say, for their hides.
 
The island is a paradox. Having been messed around with on a massive scale forty years ago it has since been left largely to its own devices. Since 1976 Froilan, now lovingly referred to as Sir Froilan, has looked after the animals. He has dedicated his life to the wellbeing of his African wards, protecting them against human encroachment, over-enthusiastic tourists, government bodies and LGU’s who, sensing a financial windfall, are circling the protected area honing their arguments as to why they should be given authority over the Park. Froilan now has a staff of 28 - with not a vet among them. Like a mother attending her kids, Sir Froilan applies betadine, an iodine solution, to wounds and nurses his sick wards as best he can, however anything more complicated than cuts and bruises goes untreated.

Forty years after their arrival, 13 of the original 16 African arrivals have become extinct, succumbing to the only predator other than man - wild dogs. Meanwhile the zebras and giraffes have survived, with two Giraffe calves being born this year alone.
 
I spent 2 glorious days on the island with unencumbered constant access to the giraffes and managed to come away with a much better understanding of their anatomy and characteristics. Rolando took loads of video and camera footage and I was able to sketch details to my hearts content. I’m a very
happy man.

 

 

James Doran Webb