Thirty-nine years ago, Froilan Sariego was a young man of 23 when he first started working as a clerk at the Calauit Safari Park in Northern Palawan.
“I really wanted to pursue my studies in Manila, but my uncle advised me against leaving town. He said,’ mayroon nang trabaho dito aalis ka pa?” recalled Sariego, who then lived in the adjacent town of New Busuanga.
The Marcos government had just forged an agreement with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to set up a temporary reservoir for native African animal species.
“The (Kenyan) government was desperate in looking for place where they can relocate some of their animals and preserve since there was a civil war and unabated poaching had drastically affected their native species,” he said.
It was in Calauit where he met his wife Dolly, who was then also aspiring to find her future in environment work.
“We were a bit adventurous then, but we really wanted to succeed in our newfound career,” he said.
While Froilan was basically involved in office work, he would help her in her chores at the farm.
A year later later, they decided to get married and, a family right in the farm. “We never talked about the future since we enjoyed our work,” he said.
Today, the Calauit Safari Farm has become one of the main ecotourism draws among visitors to Coron. Froilan is now the park manager, a post he has held since 1997.
Jimkirk, one of their five children, 27-year-old Jimkirk has decided to stay in the island to help his parents oversee the farm, which is responsible for drawing more visitors to Coron.
According to Dolly, they are also preparing for their retirement their in a few years. The couple already brought a small place in Puerto Princesa, where their other children are now staying.
“It’s really difficult for us to think about retirement. We have practically considered this place our home,” she said.
A visit to the park usually comes bundled with island-hopping activities and despite the limited manpower, the staff always welcomes visitors with a smile on their faces and loads of information to share about the various animals that may be found in the park.
For a fee of P200 for locals and P400 for foreigners, visitors can roam around the island and feed the giraffes, watch the zebras and have their photographs taken with the deer at a safe distance. During their stay, they can marvel at the various animal species available on the island, much like an African Safari Adventure.
Froilan said that when the animals finally arrived in the island, the 256 families living in the island were asked by the government to transfer to the other islands so that Calauit may be devoted to the preserve.
The locals agreed and the construction for the office buildings began as well for the fencing to prepare for the coming of the animals.
Originally, 15 heads of giraffe, 15 zebras, 12 waterbucks, 12 goosebacks, 11 elands, 10 topi, and 11 gazelle were transported from in a barge from Nairobi, Kenya. The animals travelled for 15 days before reaching their new home.
“This was originally called Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary, and it was March 4, 1977 when President Marcos himself released the animals from the crates,” Froilan recalled.
The Safari Farm underwent several changes of administration in the years that followed. There was a time that it was under the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development in the early 90s, and there was a time that it was supported by a foundation.
Through the years, it was also supported by the DENR before President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo transferred the authority to the provincial government because it had the funding to support the needs of the Safari Farm.
To Be Continued…