Giraffes in the Philippines? Really?
Back in Canada, whenever someone would ask me about my native country, the Philippines, I would tell how a met a giraffe on an island in Palawan.
I took a couple pictures back in 2015, but it wasn’t enough to convince most people. I mean, it does sound ridiculous. How can there be African animals between the West Philippine and Sulu Sea? So here’s the story of how I returned to the island, made new giraffe friends and realized the impact I have as a tourist.
Let’s start at the beginning; the whole trip was rather déjà vu. I found myself in NAIA Terminal 4 waiting to meet the other writers and bloggers along for the ride. It was the same trip I took 2 years ago. Till this day, traveling to Palawan from Manila via Skyjet is still the shortest flight I’ve ever been on. Maybe it’s my love for special mamon provided on the jet or my habit of falling asleep everywhere that made the journey over in a blink of an eye. The only difference I observed was an increase of foreign travelers on the plane, roaming the streets and at the resort.
I adored staying at Sophia’s Garden Resort as previously expressed in my resort review post. For me, comfort was found in the diversity of guest I saw at the resort. There was a family of four walking around in bathing attire, a trio of millennial backpackers from Australia and a lone foreign traveler praising the customer service on his way out. It had a Canadian homey quality with everyone coming from different backgrounds and walks of life.
Back to my story, I was beyond ecstatic to see Calauit Safari Park included in our excursion of Palawan organised by Amika Travel and Tours. We proceeded to the island by car and brisk boat ride. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a safari tour guide that explained the history and safety procedure of the tour as most animals such as giraffes and zebras are free roaming.
It was suggested that former President Ferdinand Marcos built this 3800 hectare sanctuary to lend a hand to Kenya requesting aid in conserving their wildlife. Nicknamed Bongbong’s Safari Park, it was said among the members of our tour that President Marcos established the park as a means of generating tourists, a slice of Africa in Asia, while also being a source of entertainment for his son Bongbong.
Walking through the park, I was searching for a particular giraffe I befriended previously. From the photos taken years back, she had an open wound on her stomach that I hoped had healed and that the scar would be easy to spot. But as I pointed to two different giraffes with the same wound position, that was purple in tint from topical medication, the guide informed that neither of them were my friend Yvonne. We were then brought to a fenced area to feed the giraffes and allowed to hold them as they leaned down to eat leaves from our hands. I was able to stroked their faces and become close to some as young as 3 years old born on the island.
Although it appeared harmless at the time, the impact we have on these animals is evident. At a young age, the giraffes are taught to receive food in exchange for contact. And while they are the main attraction and free to roam, other animals such as the monkeys and boars are enclosed and isolated. Despite having no predators on the island and a steady food supply, the population has not increased significantly since they were first brought to the Philippines in the 70s. Feeding the giraffes only promotes their codependency to humans. It’s hard to say for sure how long these animals can survive with their reliance and a small gene pool.
Making sure my presence doesn’t hinder the places that I visit is a responsibility that I’ve overlooked. It’s therapeutic staring into the eyes of another animal, yet it’s even more valuable to be aware of the impact that I have as a tourist by feeding them. This experience has enriched my life more ways than one.
Many thanks Sophia’s Garden Resort and Sky Jet for the accommodations. I’d like to also thank Celine, a travel/everything blogger advocating for ecotourism. I had the greatest pleasure of learning from you during the trip! For more tips on being a responsible tourist, please visit her blog at www.celineism.com.
For more information, visit their website at www.sophiasgardenresort.com. For online reservation, you may visit Agoda.com.
Sophia’s Garden Resort
Address: Sitio Jolo, Brgy. Poblacion 5, Coron Palawan.