Among the many beautiful tropical islands in the Philippines, Calauit is a delightful and complicated anomaly.
It is part of the Calamianes, a cluster of islets in Northern Palawan famous for pristine white sand beaches, towering limestone karst formations and excellent shipwreck dives. Calauit has none of these but instead has African wildlife freely roaming all over the 3,400 hectare property.
How the African animals ended in the Philippines
The animals’ long journey from Kenya began in the 70s when President Ferdinand Marcos declared Calauit as a game preserve and wildlife sanctuary by virtue of Proclamation No. 1578. He ordered a total of 104 heads of 8 exotic animals: bushbucks, elands, gazelles, giraffes, impalas, topis, waterbucks and zebras. This was done to help propagate these endangered African species.
Aside from adjusting to the tropics, the animals also had to learn to coexist with other endemic Philippine wildlife that were introduced in the island. These are the Calamian Deer, the Philippine Crocodile, and the Palawan Bearcat among many others.
Our long journey to Calauit
When my friend and I went to Coron, we ditched another island hopping tour just so we can visit Calauit. We rode on habal-habal (motorbikes), since we were not able to gather enough headcount to split the rental fee of an A/C van or a bangka (motorized outrigger boat). Later on, we would realize that this decision paid off as we also got to see and experience the ruggedly beautiful, western portion of the Busuanga mainland.
We arrived at Malacachao after 3 hours on the road. A small boat then transported us to the Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary (CGWPWS). A family on vacation arrived a few minutes later, which agreed to share the truck rental with us. This took us around the sanctuary but we occasionally stopped a few times to see the animals from a safe distance.
The animals’ complicated future
It is amazing to note that after more than five decades, the animals are still roaming around Calauit. A 2005 survey showed that most of the remaining species have in fact increased in number.
What is worrisome however, is the fact that this was achieved largely, through in-breeding. Due to budget constraints, no additional animals have been introduced to the flock since 1977. When I asked our guide that morning if there was also a resident veterinarian who could look after the animals, especially the sickly ones, he answered that there was none.
This is not the only issue that continue to haunt the animals. Back in the 70s, the bamboo forests in the island were all cut down to recreate the animals’ barren habitat in Africa.
The Tagbanuas, who were its original inhabitants, were forcibly relocated elsewhere as a result. But in 2010, they were granted Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) of Calauit, their home long before the first giraffe ever set foot on its shores.
What would happen next to the remaining wildlife in Calauit is anyone’s guess indeed. Should they stay or should they now go?
It is a complex issue – one that straddles between looking after the animals’ welfare and addressing the long struggles of an indigenous people group. One could only hope that the Tagbanaus, the local government and the rest of Calauit’s stakeholders would come up with a realistic and satisfactory ‘middle ground.’
But if you take away the heady socio-political angle of things, you might just find Calauit to be a happy place. I mean, where else in the Philippines will you be able to feed a giraffe with your own mouth or see a zebra gallop in the wild? Not even the Manila Zoo can offer these African safari-esque experiences.
Calauit is indeed a delightful, albeit complicated anomaly, but it is still an interesting destination especially in this part of the world.
How to get to Calauit
The animals only come out during the few hours in the morning or when the sun is not scorching hot. This means that you have to leave your hotels at Coron earlier because the travel time to Calauit is around 3-4 hours.
There are various agencies that offer easy and affordable package tours to Calauit. But if you’d like to go there on
motorbikes, please contact Boyet (+639282929884) regarding their budget-friendly fees. The exciting trip to the port of Malacachao is worth it for those who want a different kind of adventure.
You can reach Coron by taking an hour-long flight from Manila or Cebu.