Palawan isn't just about the serene white beaches and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Underground River of Puerto Princesa. At the northwest tip of the Busuanga Island is the Calauit Safari Park, located in Calauit Island, where one can enjoy close encounters with wild animals.
Getting to Calauit Safari Park
To be honest, I wasn’t too keen at first to visit the safari because I’m not an animal lover. I do care about animals but I’d rather have others take care of them. 🙂 But since I thought that this would mean a new experience for me, I gladly welcome the opportunity.
We planned to be there early in the morning while the animals are normally out and about. You know, animals like humans also like to go out in the open while it’s cooler. And so we left Coron at 4 am and traveled by a rented 4 x 4 vehicle as the ride is partly rough and bumpy. Yes, it’s that early but I know I’m not alone here if I say that waking up early is so much easier if it’s for the love of travel rather than for any other reasons (read as “work”).
It took us 2.5 hours to reach the small dock going to the Calauit Island and another 5 minutes boat trip to Calauit Island.
The boat that took us to Calauit Island
A placid scenery on our way to the Caluit Safari Park
Group shot before setting foot in Calauit Island
Encounter with the animals
After paying our entrance fees, we were escorted by our friendly guide (Sorry, I already forgot his name. This happened a year ago. Enough as a valid excuse? hehe) into the wildlife sanctuary.
We were walking for just a few minutes when we spotted a female Calamian deer, female because of the absence of antlers.
(Calamian) Doe, a (Calamian) deer, a female (Calamian) deer. Photo by Gigi Celicious
We continued walking until we reached a savanna-like land, characterized with scattered canopies and grasslands. In that picture below, our guide saw an…uh! what’s that animal again? <scratch head> So, we followed him to get closer to whatever animal that is, but unfortunately, he already ran away out of our sight as we were walking towards him.
Welcome to Palawan's version of a savanna
Nevertheless, we were happy to see a number of zebras freely roaming around. We even got close and actually touched them, but not after our guide instructed us not to stay too close and most importantly, not to stay behind them as these animals can give you an almighty kick.
Each one of us had a “touching” moment with this zebra. I am embarrassed to post my own, however, because when it was my turn, the zebra started showing off the length of his <censored beep: toot! toot!>.
And then came the giraffe feeding time, which is to be the highlight of this safari experience. It’s funny because unlike in usual zoos, here, we were the ones fenced, while the giraffes came right up to us to feed on fresh leaves.
Our guide teaching us the right way to feed the giraffes
It was fun seeing the giraffes up close as they bend and reach for the leaves. I can feel how strong they are as they pull up the leaves from its branches through its mouth. They chew in an amusing way, too. I wonder how long the travel time is before the food reaches their stomach.
A more intimate way of feeding the giraffes
All together now
I don’t know much about animal conservation but I don’t know whether tourists feeding the giraffes have significant negative effects on the behavior of wild animals. Hence, I don’t know whether I should feel guilty or not.
The giraffes and zebras all have their given names. I forgot the name of our guide, much so the names of the giraffes we were able to feed, which our guide had amazingly identified. They identify the animals through their distinctive patterns.
As with zebras, we were warned not to stay at the back of giraffes and not to stay too close as their long legs can give a powerful kick that could decapitate a lion.
After feeding the giraffes, we went around the natural park using an old jeepney, a reaaally old one. Apparently, we were the first group of visitors that day and those who came after us had to wait while we go around as there is only one vehicle for this purpose. Walking around would be exhausting as it becomes hotter and humid as midtime approaches.
Seeing this scene makes me wanna sing “Tsamina mina eh eh, Waka waka eh eh, Tsamina mina zangalewa, This time for Africa.”
Speaking of Africa, our guide told us that the zebras and giraffes in the park were sent to Calauit Island from Africa during the reign of President Marcos to help save the endangered animals in Africa (or was the real agenda for tourism income? I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt). A total of eight species of animals were transported but only the zebras and giraffes survived at this time.
Sadly though, while zebras, giraffes and deer are free to roam around the 3,700 hectares of the Calauit Safari Park, other animals, some are endemic to the Philippines, are held in captivity such as Philippine crocodiles, porcupines, civet cats (which defecates the renowned expensive coffee beans), turtles, phyton, monkeys and wild boars.
I think our guide was explaining here how to distinguish a male from a female turtle
The camouflage tree
It surprised me that I did enjoy my first safari experience. However, as we go about the tour, some issues that are hard to ignore came out. One is the park’s lack of funding since the post-Marcos period. This is evident from physical state of their office which looks poorly maintained and the lone old jeepney for roving. The good thing is that the staff and the guides seem to sincerely care about the animals’ welfare. I just hope that they be given sufficient funds for the personnel services and enough resources to sustain healthy living of the animals.
After a sumptuous lunch on our way back to Coron, consisting of grilled fresh fish, crabs and more crabs, we stopped over at Concepcion Falls. It’s about 10 minutes hike down the waterfalls. After getting sun-burned from the Calauit Safari Park and getting our stomachs satisfied with lunch, a dip into the cold waters of Concepcion Falls is a perfect way to get refreshed.
Our next and last stop is a charming little church decorated with stone fragments called the Malbato Church. The church is beautifully situated at the top of the hill, which means that in order to reach the church, we had to climb it up. It’s an easy path though because there’s a stairway and the climb isn’t that high.
There were some children in the church attending a catechism class during our visit.
It’s not difficult to meditate with a view like this from the church
This ends our one day adventure in Busuanga.