THE ECOTOURISM operation is booming at the Calauit Safari Park after being restricted from outsiders for over three decades.
Froilan Sariego, the park manager reported that the farm catered to 6,000 tourists last year with a steady flow of visitors this year.
But he lamented that they are constantly dealing with serious challenges, chiefly, the return of the original residents who had signed on for resettlement on other islands during the Marcos regime.
“The main problem here is the return of people. In 1986 after the EDSA revolution, the people who left returned through the Balik Calauit Movement and many of these locals are becoming a danger to the animals as they see them as game,” he said.
From the original 256 families, there are now over 300 households [comprising 1,000 individuals] living on the fringes of the island.
Sariego has requested for police presence in Calauit to keep these poaching activities in check.
“There is a mindset among some of the locals that when they see these animals, they think of food and potential income when they sell them,” he said.
Sariego said they have tried to reach out to the people and while the discussions seem to proceed well at first, the locals go back to their normal practice once the game officers have left.
“This is one of the things we are most concerned about. No matter how many tourists come in, we can accommodate them because tourism is a managed activity. But if [local] people hunt our animals for game, it’s another story,” he said.
As of now, from the original number in 1977, the giraffe population has increased to 25. There are 33 zebras, 25 elands, and the waterbucks have doubled to two dozen. While there are still goosebacks existing, park officials are unsure of the actual number, as these are nocturnal.
Aside from the African species, there are also roughly 500 heads of Calamian deer that are endemic to the islands; along with wild boar, wild cats, civets, wild chickens, monitor lizards, anteaters and porcupines.
Unfortunately, there are no more topis or gazelles as they have fallen prey to poaching. The Calamian deer are also being hunted down for meat to be sold in the markets as it is considered a delicacy. While the park administration awaits feedback on their request for additional security, they take turns policing the grounds themselves.
“Our operation here, as well you may understand, is more fueled by heart than by funding. We have only 27 staff members, most of them only high school graduates, but you can see how they handle the animals. They care about the animals. It is an infectious feeling and that is why when you come here, you will enjoy your experience in the park.”