Walking up on the entrance, it looked like Mary’s Secret Garden. The arches of crawling plants with some of its tendrils hanging loose were luring everyone to go on further. And the trees created shades comforting enough to walk along the patches of land. A two-storey house together with five or so dogs greeted us, excited to see new faces.
Animal Kingdom Foundation (AKF), situated in Capas, Tarlac, has been home to many homeless dogs. It is a non-profit, no-kill dog shelter dedicated to saving abandoned, neglected, abused and slaughter-bound dogs.
Founded by Charles Wartenberg in 2006, AKF is by far one of the biggest dog rescue and rehabilitation center in the country. However, the AKF team had done dog-slaughterhouse raids as early as 2002.
AKF Chief Researcher Greg Quimpo said that the shelter aims to raise awareness on animal welfare. They are also promoting adoption and re-homing of the slaughter-bound dogs. Adoption rate was roughly around 150 each year.
One of its famous dogs was Sweet. He was owned by Wartenberg and was one of the very first dogs saved by the AKF.
Wartenberg explained that Sweet had become attached to him even from the start. He then brought him back to the United Kingdom and eventually hit the limelight. He was announced the Dog of the Year in 2004.
However, Quimpo said that most of the visitors were looking for either shitzu, Japanese spitz or those dogs with imported breed and once they found out that what they have were local pedigrees, eventually cease to contact them.
The shelter was also catering to tourist. They had an estimate of 20 tourist visitors from Europe and all parts of the world each year volunteering and staying in the center.
It had also become haven to veterinary students. With its up-to-date facilities, a proper quarantine room and even its own cemetery, the shelter had gotten a lot of requests for internship in and outside of the country.
The shelter is a 2 hectare land with 2 buildings for their main office and another staff house and 32 dog pens. Each pen can hold 25 dogs at a time. It was currently housing 565 dogs and was expected to increase in the coming months.
“No aquarium, no tank in a marine land, however spacious it may be, can begin to duplicate the conditions of the sea. And no dolphin who inhabits one of those aquariums or one of those marine lands can be considered normal.”
~Jacques Yves Cousteau
The rain kept tapping on the windows of the van, seemingly asserting its presence to everyone in the vehicle. A storm by the name of “Gener” was slowly introducing itself to the fifteen passengers in the van. Road visibility was near zero and I have already worn my jacket to ease off the cold brought about by the weather. As the van weaved its way to our destination, I told myself, “This is not a very good day for bird watching.”
In the middle of the raging sea, one could see a solitary strip of land surrounded by trees, with a stone and gravel path cutting across the landscape. Its coast was full of broken shells and some plastic bottles. The island pales in comparison to the huge malls and buildings surrounding the area. The island was a welcome surprise amidst the continuous downpour of the rain brought by the escalating storm.
Armed with jackets, umbrellas, binoculars and cameras, we traversed the path along the coast. Silence and stillness gradually slipped in, but after some time, we saw something soaring and flying. It seemed like a warrior on the lookout, guarding the castle that it vowed to protect. A bird was traversing the dreary sky, eventually perching on the land, atop the rocks spread along the coast.
Our group, together with four guides all from Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP), were exploring the Coastal Lagoon near Manila-Cavite Expressway, known as Freedom Island to many, to do some bird watching.
Bird watching or birding is the identification and observation of wild birds in their natural habitat as a recreation.
“Bird watching is like hunting without shedding blood,” said Jops Josef, one of the guides and an avid birdwatcher.
Guys like Josef go to places without the any certainty of seeing the birds they are looking for.
Though seen as a recreation activity, Josef emphasized that birding is not for everyone. Not all people are into nature to bear the long wait, he said. But their team was fortunate enough to realize that there are better things to do than malling, he added.
The lagoon may just be a small piece of land for many. But for the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, this is their tiny piece of paradise. Haven to thousands of birds, this strip of land serves as habitat to different migratory birds visiting the country each year.
Mike Lu, founder of the WBCP, said that there used to be about ten thousand birds visiting the place but because of the continuous building constructions around the area, it now went down to two thousand.
Birds like little egrets, kingfisher, and heron are just a few of the birds that we have seen. According to Josef, birds come flocking to the lagoon on the second week of September. It is what they call peak season for birdwatchers. But still I count myself lucky enough to see these birds in action at close range.
Some birds that visit the island are Grey Heron, Great-billed Heron, Great Egret, Malayan-night Egret, Philippine Hawk Eagle and some kinds of falcon, says Lu.
For first timers, they recommend the Coastal Lagoon without the rain, the University of the Philippines Lagoon in Diliman and La Mesa Eco Park in Fairview, the latter are both in Quezon City.
Anjon Galaunan, a student and first time birdwatcher, said that he would like to do birding again sometime in the future when it is not raining.
The Wild Bird Club conducts a guided tour every month.
The smooth and subtle wind softly caressed my skin while waiting for the Sarao. It was parked in front of a shed lined with orange plastic chairs whose roof was already trying to break free and wanting to crumble on the ground. You can hear the jingles and carols signalling the start of the long holiday break together with men barking names of different places. Stars of different colors hang loosely atop the electric posts. No wonder four lines of twenty or so people were lined up, cramped in the shabby shed waiting for the next ride and hoping to start their two-week vacation as early as they can. After an eternity of standing as the driver collected the fares, I felt like a queen seating on my throne as I claimed my seat. The Sarao then, began its ascent.
Magallanes, Cavite, a small town in the mountainside, was a two-hour ride from Bacoor and at least four hours from the province of Bulacan depending if the guy on the wheel was a Formula 1 driver or if he was someone who has all the time in the world. On the way, I boarded a Victory Liner up to Cubao, and then the MRT until the Taft station, boarded another mini bus to Naic and then the Saraos. It felt like Amazing Race and finally I am here in my final leg of the competition wishing to finish the trip as soon as possible.
It was just mid-morning but the three-storey building was already crowded with young warriors. Armed with their paintbrushes and various colors of paint, they attacked the wall as they start fighting for freedom.
Initiated by environmentalist and artist AG Sano, the Dolphin Loves Freedom Network painted an entire school building wall in Quezon City High School with dolphins and different marine creatures last September 15.
Sano said that the project aims to bring awareness to the people especially the youth to protect the environment.
“Simple lang, maging mabuting mamamayan. Huwag magtapon ng basura sa kalsada dahil sa dagat din naman yun napupunta (It’s simple, be a good citizen. Do not throw garbage in the streets because it will also eventually reach the sea), “explained Sano.
Ric O’ Barry, an international dolphin advocate, also joined the group. He was the former dolphin trainer for the television series Flipper who became an advocate after witnessing Katie died in his arms. Katie was one of the five dolphins who acted as Flipper.
He encouraged the Filipinos to discontinue buying dolphin show tickets and to stop the funding of this kind of tourism industry.
“This is the way to go. It’s based on supply and demand like any other product, like Coca- Cola or anything else. If you can get the consumers, educate them, they can solve the problem,” O’ Barry added.
He also explained that this is a form of miseducation on the students.
“The dolphin show is nothing more than a spectacle and dominance. And it teaches our children that dominance is good. That dominance is life. Dominance works. They go out in life and they dominate the rest of wildlife nature. So it is a form of bad education that should be outlawed,” clarified O’ Barry.
He was touring different countries under the Dolphin Project campaign of the Earth Island Institute. It aims to stop dolphin slaughter and exploitation around the world. He has been to Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Germany, Switzerland and other countries in the Pacific.
“Don’t buy a ticket for a dolphin show. It sounds very simplistic but that is the solution,” said O’ Barry.
However, students had differing views regarding the matter. Some were in favor of stopping and closing the dolphin shows while some think otherwise.
Rd Delfin, a high school student, said that animal shows give her the chance to have a once in a lifetime experience in seeing the dolphins up close opting her to let it not closed down.
Other personalities also attended the event. Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino was present and even painted a blue dolphin together with O’ Barry.
Palatino was the author of House Resolution No. 2759 which urges the Department of Education (DepED) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) in banning school field trips to theme parks possessing captive dolphins and whales.
“School field trips are designed to expand the students’ learning through live interaction. However, dolphin and whale shows teach children the wrong values that keeping wild animals in captivity is acceptable,” said Palatino in his resolution.
O’ Barry could not be more than happy with the move made by Palatino. He said that this is a first in the world. He also emphasized that dolphins should be kept in their natural habitat and not in a swimming pool.
“Dolphins belong in the wild and if you want to save them, you should go there to see them,” he enunciated.
The event lasted the entire day and an estimate of more than a hundred students joined the campaign.