Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Rambling about Palawan wildlife and Coal Fired plants

I live in Palawan and I love it here. I can't remember when I have been happier and more content. I love the greenery around me (I don't live at city center). The wildlife here is like no other. Where we live is where we want to be, and I for one will end my days right here on this green slice of personal heaven.

This is Bindi the masked Asian palm civet that
was brought to us to rescue. She was 3 days old;
deaf and blind like a kitten for a few weeks.
The first baby wild animal was brought to me last year on Nov. 1, 2012, was a masked Asian palm civet aka musang locally. She was just 2 or 3 days old we estimated.  Like a cat (although civets are not related to cats), they born deaf and blind. She was so tiny and helpless. I had to research online what and how often to feed her.
The first night Bindi the musang was brought to us.
Not much larger than my cell phone. Eyes and
ears still closed until 2 weeks later.

She cried like a baby with a high pitched screech every 2 hours for the first two weeks and I fed her round the clock. I had never cared for a wild animal before.

She survived me and is just a little over 1 year old now. She cannot be put back into the wild. She likes people too much and we live in an area where they eat these creatures and they are generally considered pests by the locals. We use her as an Ambassador for her kind; we have brought her to  local schools and different events that people about our wildlife and how to respect it. She's very good with the kids and likes to jump on their shoulders and smell them. The kids love her and she's always a highlight of the event. She basically lives with me in my home office all day and most of the night hanging out on the highest point or piece of furniture. I do take her outside every now and then so she can explore and she doesn't run away but we do watch her as we live near a road.

I have learned since that sometimes they are also poached by illegal wildlife traders and sold as pets in Indonesia. Although they do have their own civets, several kind in fact, the pet trade and illegal hunting are slowing decimating their numbers.  Over here they are considered common, yet they are still endemic and an important part of our ecosystem. Why wait till something is on the brink of extinction to teach people about them I say. Usually by then it's too late any way as in the case of our next rescue.

In April of 2013 a village boy brought me a strange creature. I had never seen this creature before. It was a mammal with scales. Perhaps a month old. It was a scaly anteater or pangolin as they are also called. It was so sweet and hung on to me as though it needed a touch. It hung on to my neck for reassurance for the longest time while I searched online for what to do with it; how to feed it and care for it. The boys had found a mud termite mound and brought it with the creature so it could feed on that the first night. We called him Balin, short for the word used to name it here, Balintong.
Baby Palawan scaly anteater or pangolin.

The next day they harvested live termites from it and we tried to get it to eat them but it would not. The next day it crawled up the leg of another cage and began to eat the  tiny ants crawling up. It dawned on me to take it outside the animal enclosure and let it find it's own ants and termites. After that the boy, myself and our other dedicated assistant Jhun, would night after night take it out on our 2 hectares and even neighbors properties and just watch it while it found its own food. It was grueling to follow it especially in the rain. The mosquitoes alone were horrendous; we had to use a lot of insect repellent.

Balin on one of the nights following him while he
foraged for his food.
We continued to care for it while I looked online for more information about this fascinating animal. It has no teeth. Only a tongue as long as it's body and it's diet consists of ants and termites. It never destroyed the whole colony. It would eat enough and then moved on. This of course assured it that there would be insects a plenty when they rebuilt themselves. I noticed also that as it burrowed into the ground to find the insects it would be aerating the soil where it went. This allows seeds of all the plants around it will grow in hour hard soil more easily! Even on old logs. It would literally shred them to pulp getting at the insects and that would add compost to the earth. What a planet friendly creature it is.

While studying about the pangolin, a few days later, a Chinese ship was in the news having stranded itself on the protected Tubatahha reefs in Northern Palawan. Alas, inside it were dead and processed pangolins already descaled in plastic bags. This is when I began to really learn about the illegal wildlife trade here in Palawan and how the pangolin is one of the most poached creatures aside from the turtles. In fact it's so bad they feel the creature will be extinct is as few as 10 years. People actually eat them! How a person can kill such a wondrous and valuable asset to our ecology I will never, ever understand. The creatures are totally helpless again'st humans. Such gentle animals they are! One night after we had Balin for 2 months, it got out of  the animal enclosure and we saw it coming back. We tried to find out and seal where we thought it was getting out, but apparently they are well known escape artists. After two nights of getting out and coming back, on the third night it didn't. We have not seen it since. It won it's freedom for better or for worse. I choose to believe he is surviving somewhere because I can't stand the thought that he might have been trapped and eaten.

One of the three small clawed otter pups, Owen.
All three are males! He is about 45 days or or a
little more we have estimated by their growth.
Our third and current rescue happened on Oct. 1, 2013 when another village person brought us a wriggling sack. In it were three baby otter pups. Asian small or short clawed otters to be exact. All still with their eyes and ears closed like the musang! I hurriedly searched online and wrote an urgent email letter to all the otter organizations online asking for their help. All of them responded with valuable help. They did immediately take to the mini puppy bottles and to the low lactose milk I'd had on hand for the pangolin, who would not drink it at all. I was grateful for this as trying to feed them with a syringe the first day before we got the bottles was a nightmare. They are considered vulnerable because of encroachment into their habitats.

Omar discovers he's a reall otter and takes a
short swim. Approximately 48 days old.
All these creatures, the pangolin, the otters and many other creatures occur only in Palawan in the entire Philippines. What a treasure this island is in endemic flowers, birds mammals and sea life.

All this leads me to Coal! The government wants to put in a coal fired electrical plant. With all the scientific information coming in and the whole world weighing in against the horrors of coal plants. What a shining example Palawan could be a jewel in the crown of the Pearl of the Orient as the Philippines is called. So much new and alternative ways to produce energy and here on the last frontier the leaders want to have a coal burning plant. No vision at all for the sustainability of this island. It's difficult to overcome the effects of coal in the future and will be more expensive in the long run.

Green technologies bring in better and longer lasting jobs. Yet the leaders won't do their homework and refuse to invite bidding to companies offering alternative energy solutions.

The planning department here has no clue about zoning or sustainability or regulating new businesses. I've heard that 1200 new hotels and pension houses have sprung up just this year alone. What we really need are at least 6 more world class hospitals and then the hotels will fill up again when the allure of the Underground River and waiting in all the lines to see it wears off.

Coal will certainly pollute the environment and cause the loss of many of these species in the area surrounding Aborlan where they want to place it.

I love Palawan but I fear and I observe that its going the way of other polluted, congested and ill planned cities in the country. What a pity the people running this place don't understand, won't try to understand the long term consequences of their choices today.


Blog of Diana J. Limjoco of the Clan Limjoco