Calauit Safari Park (Busuanga, Palawan)

Calauit Safari Park

Part of the Sophia’s Garden Resort-sponsored tour

We all woke up 4 AM early in the morning as we were to slated to experience one of Coron’s as well as the country’s popular eco-tourism attractions – the 3,760-hectare Calauit Safari Park. Formerly known as Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary, it would be the closest we would get to an African safari.

Check out “Calauit Island Game Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary

Malecachiao Pier

It was still raining when we all boarded our van (4:30 AM) for our 2-hour drive to Macalachao Pier in Salvacion, Busuanga, arriving there by 6:30 AM.  The pier has a souvenir shop selling really beautiful Calauit T-shirts. Here, we all had our packed breakfast before proceeding on our short, 10-minute motorized boat ride to Calauit Island.

Boat ride to Calauit Island

This would be my second visit to this island, the first happening nearly 25 years ago (February 25, 1995 to be exact) with my mother and sister Tellie.  We went there all the way by a motorized outrigger boat from Club Paradise Resort in Dimakya Island.

Calauit Island

Making landfall at Calauit Island

Located just off Busuanga Island’s northwestern coast, this park was established on August 21, 1976 by Presidential Proclamation 1578 issued by the late Pres. Ferdinand Marcos and opened to tourists since 1985.  To transform it into a savanna, the island residents were relocated and its bamboo forests were cleared to provide a suitable environment for the animals.

Information Center

Park rates

Upon arrival, we were all requested to sign up on the registration area of the Information Center and, from here, we walked a short distance (the tour truck, the park’s safari vehicle, wasn’t available), accompanied by our local guide Orlando “Orlan” Cruz, to where the animals grazed.  It had stopped raining by then.

Briefing with guide Orlando “Orlan” Cruz (right)

At the time of my 1995 visit, the park still had 8 species of herbivores from northern Kenya (Africa) comprising 43 Reticulated Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata), 78 Grévy’s zebra (Equus grevyi) and 6 types of antelopes –  155 Impala (Aepyceros melampus), two Thomson’s gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii), 122 Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus), 50 Common Eland (Taurotragus oryx), 14 Topi (Damaliscus lunatus jimela) and 16 Bushbucks (Tragelaphus sylvaticus).

A pair of Gervy’s Zebras

Since my first visit, the original individuals imported from Africa have all died, leaving behind only the offspring of the Reticulated giraffes, Grevy’s zebras, waterbucks and common elands (the Thompson gazelles, bushbucks  topis and impalas have all died because of infighting and poaching), which were all born in Calauit.

A small herd of Reticulated Giraffe

Of the remaining four species, we only spotted some the 24 zebras and the 32 giraffes (the 14 waterbucks and elands are shy and prefer to distance themselves from tourists).  The giraffes, captivating us with their magnificent colors, stood tall in full regal and charm while the zebras, with their black and white stripes, looked so classic.

Celine and Gabrielle bonding with a giraffe at the Feeding Station

The highlight of the tour was the Feeding Station.  Here, within an enclosed pen, we got to feed the giraffes with leaves from the bakawang gubat or malwandit (Carallia borneensis) provided by Orlan and got up close to them, something I wasn’t allowed to do during my first visit.

The author up close and personal with a giraffe

This was my first time close encounter with this graceful and beautiful animal, among the iconic and the tallest land animal in the world. The giraffes have names such as Isabel (the biggest giraffe of the lot), Miller, Terrence and Mylene, all named after their sponsors.

Calamian Deer

Though the giraffes and zebras are the crowd favorites, there were other animals in the sanctuary too. We also saw local, critically-endangered Calamian Deer (Hyelaphus calamianensis) grazing with the giraffes and zebras.

Palawan Bearded Pig

Philippine Porcupine

We also observed, in their pens, pools and cages in the mini zoo, the Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis) , the Philippine porcupine (Hystrix pumila) , freshwater turtles, reticulated python, leopard cats, the Palawan bearded pig (Sus ahoenobarbus) and the Philippine macaque.

The author besides a camouflage tree

There was also a tree they called the camouflage tree because it looks like the camouflage uniform of servicemen.

Philippine Freshwater Crocodile

Leopard Cat

Today, the park now faces a number of challenges. The number of workers in the park has dwindled from 300 to 30 dues to budget cuts. The former inhabitants (mostly from tribes of Tagbanwas) of the peninsula who were relocated decades ago are returning via the Balik-Calauit movement. Currently, The provincial government is still reaching out to settle the disputes between the locals and the authorities in the park.

A pair of freshwater turtles

Philippine Macaque

Reticulated Python

Calauit Safari Park: Brgy. Salvacion, Busuanga.  Mobile number: (0926) 114-4443 (Mr. Froilan Sariego – park manager). Admission: PhP200 (Filipinos) and PhP400 (foreigners).  Use of tour truck: PhP1,000/2 hours (divided by how many you are in the group, maximum capacity is 20 pax). Feeding time of the giraffes is from 7 -9:30 AM. The Calauit Office is closed on Saturdays and Sundays and all tours desired to be taken from Saturday to Monday mornings should be reserved by Friday afternoon. All reservations received later than Friday afternoon will be confirmed Monday morning at 10 AM.

Sophia’s Garden Resort: 5 Dinagpan Rd., Sitio Jolo, Brgy. Poblacion 5, Governor’s Dr., Coron, 5316 Palawan. Tel: (048) 723-1871.  Mobile numbers: (0917) 543-5775 and (0939) 915-0274. E-mail: sophiasgardenresort@gmail.com. Website: www.sophiasgardenresort.com. You can also follow them on Facebook: Sophia’s Garden Resort

Baluarte Zoo (Vigan City, Ilocos Sur)

Baluarte Zoo

Baluarte Zoo

It was our last day in Ilocos Sur and, as we still had a whole day for sightseeing prior to our evening departure for Manila, Melissa, Almira, Albert, Jandy and I, together with Cora, Melissa’s sister, and her two grandchildren, decided to visit Baluarte Zoo, former Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson’s home in Vigan City and one of the top tourist destinations in Ilocos Sur.  Along the highway in Napo, Magsingal, we took a bus or the 13-km./25-min. ride to Vigan City proper.

Zoo entrance

Zoo entrance

From the city proper, we all boarded two tricycles for the 10-min. ride to Baluarte. As it was Holy Week, there was a traffic queue as we neared the entrance so we alighted, paid our fare, and walked the rest of the way.  Prior to entering, we had lunch at an eatery just outside the zoo. Entrance to the zoo was free.

Zoo rates

Zoo rates

Zoo Map

Zoo map

The approximately 80-hectare Baluarte Zoo, where Chavit’s numerous pets can be found, sits on a hill that provides an awesome panoramic view of Vigan City. This interactive free-roaming animal sanctuary is home to albino and spotted deer; miniature horses; impalas; one-humped camels; goats; zebras; ostriches; monkeys; llamas and buffalo plus a slew of bird species, from the common African love birds, ducks, swans, midget chickens and parrots to the more exotic hornbills.

Spotted Deer

Spotted Deer

Zebras

Zebras

For caged animals, they have some reptiles like snakes, iguanas, monitor lizards, pythons, crocodiles and then there’s Bengal tigers and birds such as eagles, owls and peacocks.  Baluarte also features live daily animal shows (three times a day, 10 AM, 2 PM an 4 PM) and tell times when audiences are introduced to the animals.

Ostriches (2)

Free roaming ostriches

There’s also a petting zoo, a butterfly garden inside the garden where one can observe and have a more serene interaction with thousands of butterflies, some endemic to the Philippines; a track or horse riding; a skeet shooting range and a chapel, among others.

Chapel

Chapel

Singson's gold-clad resthouse

Singson’s gold-clad resthouse

The gold-clad building (called by locals as the “Golden Building”), topped with a burning bush sculpture up its roof, is Chavit’s personal multi-storey rest house which has a grand view of Vigan and the West Philippine Sea.

Singson's "Yellow Submarine"

Singson’s “Yellow Submarine”

Zoo golf cart shuttle

Zoo golf cart shuttle

Within the grounds, we had a glimpse of Chavit’s personal and functional one-man mini-submarine with its iconic yellow color (one can easily hazard a guess on what its name is), said to have been used by Chavit to track treasures during his free time. Kids will definitely enjoy the Jurassic Park background because of those life-size concrete dinosaurs. There was also a safari tour, using a long-seater golf cart, with a minimal fee of Php20 per person.

Life-size concrete dinosaurs

Life-size concrete dinosaurs

Melissa interacting with an anaconda

Melissa interacting with an anaconda

To interact and get a close encounter with the animals you can, for a price, also ride some ostriches, horses and ponies and can touch or carry an anaconda (PhP20) and iguana (PhP20). For a closer encounter with parrots and hornbills, visitors may choose to openly approach and feed them with bananas and seeds in a more open area. Each animal has there own designated attendant. The place also has souvenir shops (T-shirts, key chains, ref magnets, etc.) and food outlet.

Souvenir shop

Souvenir shop

The climax of our visit to the place is the Safari Gallery perched on top of the hill.  It houses a collection of deer heads (and other few animals) hanging on the wall; the collection of stuffed animals such as a lion, Bengal tiger, wildebeasts, bison, bear, buffalo, gazelles, elephant, sheep, and so many more killed in his safari adventures (paintings and photos of Chavit beside the dead animal are also posted).

Safari Gallery

Safari Gallery

Some are just skins of these wild animals. While I do not like the idea of killing these animals, it still looks awesome looking at them preserved and mounted. It is also well maintained with properly labeled items.

Stuffed animals at the Safari Gallery

Stuffed animals at the Safari Gallery

Melissa and Albert also tried out the Water Walking Ball (PhP50/pax/15 mins.), a large inflatable sphere that allows a person inside it to walk across the surface of a pool of water. Before leaving, Almira and Jandy tried out the tiburin ride, a rickshaw driven by a miniature horse. It allowed them a close-up view of the free roaming animals.

Water Walking Ball

Water Walking Ball

From Friday to Sunday, 6 – 9 PM (last entry 8:30 PM) there is a Night Zoo. Admission: (Discovery Trail): PhP50 for adults, PhP20 for children and PhP40 for senior citizens and persons with disability.  Tram on Tour:  PhP100 for adults, PhP40 for children and PhP80 for senior citizens and persons with disability. On weekends, from 7 – 8:30 PM, there’s  a Sala ti Darang (The Art of Fire Dancing) show.

Almira and Jandy's tiburin ride

Almira and Jandy’s tiburin ride

Baluarte Zoo: Brgy. Salindeg, Vigan City, Ilocos Sur.  Tel: (077) 722-7186. Open daily, 8 AM – 5 PM (last entry 4:30 PM).

Beijing: Asian Games Panda House (Beijing Zoo)

After having our fill of Peking Roast Duck at the Original Quanjude Restaurant, we returned to our coach and proceeded to the Beijing Zoo where we were to have our first face-to-face encounter with the Giant Panda, an emblem of China, at the Asian Games Panda House. We entered the Zoo’s East Area where the pandas, big cats, bears, small mammals, pheasants and waterfowl are housed.

Beijing Zoo Entrance

The over 10,000 sq. m. Asian Games Panda House, built in 1990 for the 11th Asian Games, currently houses 5 pandas, the youngest being 2 years old. The Giant Panda Hall is designed on a circular pattern inspired by the Tai Chi symbol. The interior has area of 1,452 sq. m. and there is an additional 2000 sq. m. of outside “playgrounds” for the pandas with trees, climbing structures, and lots of places to lean back and enjoy a snack.

Asian Games Panda House

The main part of the house has a bamboo-shaped structure, entered from the southeast side and exited from the northwest, with 11 semicircular arch rings (representing the 11th Asian Games) surrounding it. There are 3 exhibition rooms around the central hall. The center also has rooms for isolating, medical treatment, fresh bamboo, deliveries, food making and TV supervision.  The outdoor sports ground has wooden perches and recreational facilities for pandas.  Bamboo is grown around the Panda House.

A Sleeping Giant Panda

The Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is a bear easily recognized by its large, distinctive black patches around the eyes, over the ears, and across its round body. Though it belongs to the order Carnivora, the Giant Panda’s diet is 99% bamboo. Other parts of its diet include honey, eggs, fish, yams, shrub leaves, oranges, and bananas when available.

The Giant Panda in Motion

It lives in a few mountain ranges in central China, mainly in Sichuan province, but also in the Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. Due to farming, deforestation, and other development, the Giant Panda has been driven out of the lowland areas where it once lived. The Giant Panda is a conservation reliant endangered species. While the dragon has historically served as China’s national emblem, in recent decades the Giant Panda has also served as an emblem for the country. Its image appears on a large number of modern Chinese commemorative silver, gold, and platinum coins. Though the Giant Panda is often assumed to be docile, it has been known to attack humans, presumably out of irritation rather than predation