Wildlife Sanctuaries That Keep Endangered Animals Safe
In a country like ours, tourism is almost always dependent on nature; and wildlife, the main draw. But wildlife tourism is a tricky beast (no pun intended).
While there are protected areas and wildlife sanctuaries in the Philippines, there is little regulation to assure that they uphold the same levels of protection for the animals.
Our wildlife and their natural habitat should be safeguarded and managed sustainably in order for the tourism aspect to flourish—which is possible through economically and socially sustainable conservation programs.
If our wildlife tourism sites are properly planned and managed, they can improve the perceived value of live animals, provide opportunities for nearby communities, lower hunting and poaching, and grow funding for protected areas and reserves.
“When communities see direct benefits from prospering wildlife populations, they have a greater stake in protecting them,” the 2018 World Bank Report notes.
As travelers, let’s spend our money in places that keep our endangered friends safe.
Note: The Good Trip takes the debate on responsible wildlife tourism seriously. If you have a comment on or against any of these sites, or any other wildlife centers, feel free to get in touch via email (email@example.com).
The Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary (Bohol)
With a timberland area of 167 hectares spanning three municipalities in Bohol, this sanctuary was built to fulfill the mandate of DENR to implement a Philippine Tarsier Conservation Program.
All the tarsiers are free to move around: they can go out of a 7-foot-high fence enclosure (for an additional area of 8.4 hectares). The fence serves to connote the feeding and breeding ground, but also as a barrier against predators, poachers, and hunters. In fact, some tarsiers go out of this area to feed deeper into the forest but before daylight, they come back as if in time for curfew.
Run by the Philippine Tarsier Foundation (PTFI), this sanctuary’s goal is to save the Philippine Tarsier and preserve its habitat while helping other wildlife thrive. The sanctuary’s ethical guidelines ensure that the natural habits of these small primates are not disturbed for the sake of tourism.
TARSIER TRAIL. A 15-kilometer hiking trail that that traverses through 134 hectares of forest, where you can see a Philippine tarsier in the wild. The trail has several viewing points to allow travellers to observe the tarsier in its natural habitat without disturbing them. The pathway is also filled with local flora and fauna that guests can learn about.
TARSIER RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT CENTER. The visitor and research centre educates guests on the different features and behaviours of the tarsier. Research and literature on the animal, a scale model on the sanctuary, and a partial skeleton of a tarsier are also displayed.
Location: Km. 14, Canapnapan, Corella, Bohol
Operating Hours: 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Whale Shark Sites (Donsol, Puerto Princesa and Southern Leyte)
Earlier this year, the Philippine whale shark population became the second largest known in the world, with more than 1600 individuals documented in our waters.
Despite this, the biggest fish in the world remains an endangered species and a tourist attraction at the same time. Here are three sites that are working to protect these endangered giants while allowing human interaction.
DONSOL, SORSOGON. Donsol Bay in Sorsogon is also called the “Whale Shark Capital of the World,” which started when the eco-tourism site was founded in 1998—the first of its kind in the Philippines.
Visitors must go to the Donsol Whale Shark Interaction Center to register and pay the fees: It’s 300PHP for the one-time registration and 3500PHP per boat. A single boat carries a maximum of 6 guests, so you can find people to share the boat (and the fee!) with. On the boat will be a Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO), whale shark spotter and boat captain, who will take you out on sea. Each trip lasts three hours.
Location: Donsol, Pio Duran Road, Donsol, Sorsogon
Operating hours: No formal operating hours, but tours usually start at 7:00 AM
Season: November to June, but it changes year on year
PUERTO PRINCESA, PALAWAN. Over 50 individual whale sharks have been identified in Honda Bay, Palawan, where they feed on planktons along with tunas. After a briefing, guides use traditional bancas (boats) to bring travellers to the diving site. With only one boat and a maximum of ten people per tour, the day starts early: you are picked up from your lodging between 7:00 AM to 7:30 AM and brought to the pier. The fee is at 1,700PHP per head, which includes the boat, boat captain, spotter, and lunch. After swimming with the whale sharks, you’re ferried back to your accommodation with a van.
Location: Honda Bay, Puerto Princesa, Palawan Island
Operating Hours: 6:30 AM to 3:00 PM
Season: April to November
SOUTHERN LEYTE. Did you know that a whale shark in Southern Leyte matched the identification of a whale shark previously seen in Taiwan? This marked the first international photo-ID match of a whale shark in Southeast Asia, which meant that this giant fish covered a minimum distance of 1600 km.
Southern Leyte’s whale shark tourism in Sogod Bay is also lauded as the most sustainable whale shark tourism practice in the country. A study by LAMAVE found that whale shark interactions were shorter when motorized vessels are nearer or if they are in deeper waters. The local government unit is using this information to improve interaction guidelines and sustainable practices.
Because this site is not as popular as other whale shark tourism destinations in the country, it is considerably less crowded but no less enjoyable. The KASAKA, a fishermen’s association, operates the whale shark interaction in the town of Pintuyan and will brief the guests on the strict guidelines that must be followed. The payment will include an environmental fee of 250PHP per guest, 300PHP per spotter and 350PHP per guide. If you haven’t rented your own boat, then a pump boat will cost you an additional 800PHP, which is good for a maximum of 3 people.
Location: Sogod Bay, Brgy. Son-ok, Pintuyan, Southern Leyte
Operating Hours: No formal operating hours
Season: October to May
Danjugan Island (Negros Occidental)
Now a thriving marine and wildlife sanctuary, Danjugan Island was once a threatened and over-fished area. The Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation, Inc. has led the rehabilitation and protection of the island, which is 1.5 km long and 0.5 km at its widest point It’s home to a rich variety of flora and fauna including at least:
73 BIRD SPECIES
10 BAT SPECIES
22 BUTTERFLY SPECIES
17 SPECIES OF MANGROVES
572 FISH SPECIES
244 SPECIES OF HARD CORALS
8 SPECIES OF SEAGRASS
74 SPECIES OF MACROALGAE
Danjugan’s immense biodiversity is made possible by its geography; it has five lagoons, numerous coral reefs, and vast limestone forests. As a sanctuary, Danjugan Island highlights the very core of many wildlife asylums: they are not for public entertainment. “Danjugan is not a resort,” they write on their website.
Danjugan Island is entirely solar-powered, keeping its carbon footprint as low as possible. There are two accommodations visitors can book: the Moray Lagoon Camp and the Typhoon Beach, located on the eastern and western parts of the island respectively. There’s also a variety of activities that gives you a chance to encounter wildlife.
Snorkeling, sailing, scuba diving, and kayaking are best for observing and swimming with marine life. Trails for trekking also weave around the island and through the limestone and mangrove forests where you can encounter different kinds of native wildlife. You’ll pass through the lagoons, bat cave, the 360°-view watchtower, bird watching deck, beaches, among others.
Bird watching is also an incredible experience in Danjugan, given the numerous species—some rare, some colorful—to be found in the sanctuary. Meanwhile, food is made from local produce provided by a local community and by its organic vegetable farm in the mainland.
Rates for Danjugan Island vary (see their website for detailed rates), depending on your activities and length of stay. But no matter what your plan is, make sure to book in advance as Danjugan follows a low-impact tourism model and can only accommodate a limited number of visitors at a time.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact +63 915 234-7145 / +63 908 525-4108 / +63 34 441-6010 to make a reservation.
Location: 3 Purok, Barangay Bulata, Cauayan, Negros Occidental 6112, Philippines
Operating Hours: No formal operating hours
Peak Season: March to June
Sustainable wildlife tourism has no guarantees—and that’s okay
Truly ethical and sustainable wildlife tourism offers no guarantees for sightings, and rightfully so. No guarantees reflect the animals’ freedom in their natural environment, living with their unaltered habits and behaviour.
As conservationist and wildlife management authority Dr. Michael Hutchins says, “[T]he reality of wildlife tourism is highly dependent on luck and serendipity. The behavior of free-roaming wild animals is unpredictable and one must often be both observant and patient to maximize one’s experience in the field.”
“Honest tour operators can truly guarantee little except the chance to encounter wildlife and to get you into the right places at the right times. The more time spent in the field, the better the chance of actually seeing what you are looking for. In addition, a knowledgeable, experienced driver-guide can greatly increase your chances of experiencing or photographing the desired species or events,” he adds.
“It is always best to not have unrealistic expectations, but to be flexible and experience things as they unfold.”