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.