Four things I learnt from travel to the Philippines

I am fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to visit some of the top tourist spots in the Philippines: I’ve climbed Taal volcano, gazed in wonder at the Chocolate Hills, floated on the green Loboc River, rafted down the rapids of Pagsanjan River, swum from a sand bar into a warm turquoise sea and looked in awe on Mount Mayon. I discovered a country of real beauty, of dreamy beaches and dramatic mountains. But my time spent in the Philippines is much more than memories filed away in dusty photo albums. I may be thousands of miles away but the Philippines is part of my here and now. It shaped who I am today. So I’ve tried to distill it down to why it had such an impact, this is what I came up with:

The Chocolate Hills, Bohol

  1. Smile

Whilst visiting the Philippines for the first time, I was often asked “What will you take back from the Philippines?” It sounds a bit silly but my answer was always “the smiles”. As part of an exchange visit organised by Rotary Clubs in Laguna and Bicol, we visited lots of schools and community-based projects. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with beautiful smiles.

The smiles are still with me, though sometimes, I do have to remind myself to smile more.

Filipino kids smiling and laughing

  1. Biodiversity is truly diverse

The wildlife in the Philippines astounds me. I’ve been lucky enough to see wide-eyed tarsiers and swim with wide-mouthed whale sharks, but there is so much more. Although most of it I will never see, it is fascinating to discover that there are unique species of mice found on single mountain tops and to see how bleeding-heart doves have have evolved to have different plumage on different islands.

It’s also simple things that really made me stop and think: the funky centipedes, colourful beetles and the ridiculous number butterflies – I was amazed to see twenty-two different species of butterfly on one short walk!

I have worked in wildlife conservation all my working life, I know what biodiversity means but only in the Philippines did I truly witness it.

Philippine tarsier

  1. The power of community spirit

Children danced for us when we visited this school on the shores of Laguna de Bay; the next time I saw an image of the school was six months later; adults were wading through water that was up to their chests.

Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) had stuck with all its might. The moment when I heard about it on the radio, in a BBC news broadcast, is permanently etched into my mind. But it was what happened immediately after the typhoon was inspiring. My Facebook news feed and email inbox filled with updates from Filipinos I’d met. They took immediate action to help those affected, delivering food, clothing, whatever was needed in their communities.

All communities come together and support each other in times of need; it is the human spirit. But in the Philippines, there’s even a word for it bayanihan. 

(Read more about it on this blog: The Bayanihan Spirit).

School children dancing

  1. To embrace the inspiration

Spending time in the Philippines changed my perspective and sparked my imagination.

After visiting the Philippines I started drawing again (which I hadn’t done for years) and began to write stories. I didn’t set out to be an author; that some of my stories became published picture books in the Philippines is remarkable. Maybe they will help raise awareness of some of the wildlife in the Philippines, before it is too late.

Measured in miles I am a long way from these islands that continue to inspire me, sometimes it feels a little crazy, but I have decided just to carry on. To embrace the inspiration and see where the stories and pictures take me.

And I hope, in a small way, it gives something back to the children that greeted us with their smiles.

School children with picture books donated by the Rotary Club of West Bay, Laguna

 

Advertisements

Diwa in the community

Distribution of Diwa the Dugong picture books and dugong posters in Busuanga

With the help of her friends from Community Centred Conservation (C3), Diwa the Dugong has been busy raising awareness of dugongs from Busuanga and Ortigas City.

Distribution of Diwa the Dugong picture books and dugong posters in BusuangaC3 Philippines team conducted awareness campaign on dugong conservation in Calawit National High school and Barangay Bogtong. The team distributed Dugong-Seagrass posters and Diwa the Dugong books for teachers and community members.

Distribution of Diwa the Dugong picture books and dugong posters in Busuanga

 

Diwa the Dugong books were also sold during the First National Biodiversity Congress held in May at Ortigas City, Mandaluyong.

Diwa the Dugong at the First National Biodiversity Congress

Copies of the picture book Diwa the Dugong are available from Bookmark the Filipino Bookstore and Pumplepie Books & Happiness.

Relax and colour your own snoozing binturong

Also known as a bearcat, even though they aren’t bears or cats, binturongs are large civets from south-east Asia that smell like buttered popcorn.

binturong-1581987_1920

Binturongs live in the canopy of tropical forests and will sleep high in tree branches, curling up with their heads tucked under their tails. They are one of only two carnivores (the other is the kinkajou) with a prehensile tail. The tail is almost as long as the body and acts like another limb when climbing.

They play an important role in spreading the seeds of the fruits that they eat. They are also one of the few animals animals with digestive enzymes capable of softening the tough outer covering of the seeds of strangler figs.

Considered rare throughout much of its range, the binturong is believed to be declining and is classed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. There are nine described subspecies of binturong, although the Palawan population (Arctictis binturong whitei) is often considered as a separate species.

 

 Colour a binturong

Click on the image for a printable pdf:

bearcat colouring

World Binturong Day is organised by ABConservation – the one and only association in the world that is entirely dedicated to the study and protection of binturongs. Find out more about their website and like them on Facebook.

 

Panay: paradise in north-west England?

dscf8859

Somewhat colder than the original Panay in the Philippines; this is the Panay at Chester Zoo in the north-west of the England.

I had wanted to visit since I heard about their ‘Islands’ exhibit inspired by islands South-East Asia including Panay. Finally, I had the chance to explore.

dscf8887

Visiting the zoo is like exploring; it feels like there is an element of luck in whether you will see the animals or not. Luckily I spotted what I had come to see and lots more. Top of my list was the Visayan warty pig – one of the rarest pigs on the planet and my very own picture book heroine Mayumi.

dscf8865This was my first face-to-face encounter with a Visayan warty pig: she looked happy chewing on leaves and was totally oblivious of me and everyone else (which is exactly how it should be).

dscf8883

It’s not just the human visitors that get to explore, the animals appeared to have space to explore too.

There are just a few hundred Visayan warty pigs thought to be surviving in the wild; living in fragments of forest on the islands of Panay and Negros. Without intervention it is likely that they would disappear entirely. The conservation work of zoos like Chester Zoo, and the support they give to conservation initiatives in the Philippines, is vitally important.

dscf8878Visayan warty pig – now found only on the islands of Panay and Negros, this critically endangered wildlife pig is perhaps the rarest pigs in the world. Some estimate at there being just 200 individuals left living in the wild

dscf8898Philippine or Visayan spotted deer – endemic to the islands of the central Philippines but now thought to be found only on Panay and Negros

dscf8929Mindanao bleeding heart-dove one of the bleeding-heart doves that are endemic to the Philippines

I also saw but didn’t  photograph: Philippine mouse-deer, Visayan tarictic hornbills, Mindanao hornbill, Palawan peacock pheasant and Northern Luzon cloud rat. The cloud rat proved to be the hardest to see. Being nocturnal, it’s enclosure is darkened and the animals still aren’t very active during the day. I stood watching for ages until I was rewarded with a brief glimpse before it retreated back into its nesting box.

The Philippine species weren’t all in the islands area of the zoo, I had to seek them out and I know I missed some. But there is some much to see. My other highlights were young orangutans playing on a rope swing and rolling down a hill (it looked like loads of fun), the painted dogs, aardvarks fast asleep and dreaming, an aye-aye and the amazing fruit bat cave.

Oh and I should have mentioned I saw one of the Visayan warty pigs have a poo too! It made me happy because pig poo is a very important part of Mayumi’s story.

20170412_081138

In search of the wide-eyed poster boys of the Philippines

As the metal gate was quietly shut behind me, I knew I was entering somewhere special. A butterfly lazily fluttered by as I followed a guide along a narrow trail into the forest. Birds were singing loudly, tempting me to stop and look for them. But the birds and the butterflies were sidelined today as I peered between branches and leaves searching for a small brown animal with big eyes: the poster boy of Philippines wildlife.

I’d seen photos of tarsiers on countless tourism websites but photos can miss the living essence of an animal. As I peered through the leaves, I thought I spotted something but no, it was just a dead leaf. Then, with the help of the guide, we spotted something sitting high on a branch. Peering back at me with half-closed sleepy eyes was a tarsier.

Philippine tarsier

Tarsiers are remarkable little animals. They have the largest eyes relative to their body weight of any mammal and, though their eyes are fixed in their sockets, they can rotate their head nearly 360 degrees. This gives them incredible abilities to spot their insect prey in the forest.

Their name comes from another unique adaptation: the tarsal bones in their feet are elongated giving them the longest hindlimbs of any mammal relative to body length. These extra-long legs make them exceptionally good at leaping. They can jump 40 times their own body length in a single leap.

dscf5830

However, none of the tarsiers I saw were leaping. Tarsiers are nocturnal; sleeping during the day and waking at sundown to go in search of their prey. They are shy, nervous creatures and it’s critical to keep disturbance to a minimum. At the Tarsier Sanctuary, visitors are accompanied by a guide to ensure that the tarsiers aren’t disturbed.

DSCF5839.jpg

I visited the Philippine Tarsier Foundation’s sanctuary in Corella on Bohol. The tarsiers are in a large enclosure of natural habitat. It’s enclosed to keep out predators, such as cats, but the tarsiers themselves are free to leave in search of food.

Whilst at the sanctuary I was lucky enough to meet Carlito Pizarras. Known as the tarsier man, he was instrumental in setting up the tarsier conservation programme and has devoted his life to the animals. His work was recognised in 2010 when the Philippine tarsier was re-named Carlito syrichta, the only member of the genus Carlito.

tarsier-2

Find out about visiting the sanctuary on the Philippine Tarsier Foundation website.

The wildlife of the Philippines inspires me to draw and write picture book stories. This sleepy little tarsier is called Tala, she’s resting after a big adventure, hopefully one day I’ll be able to share her adventure with you.11753729_555669204588298_1726704210075257460_n

 

dscf5829

 

 

Pangolin colouring page

Pangolins are the only mammals in the world with scales. The scales are made of keratin, the same material that finger nails and rhino horn are made from. The number of scales depends on the species – Sunda pangolins have been estimated to have about 900 to over 1000 scales.

But don’t worry, you don’t have to colour them all in individually…. unless you want to!

 

Click on the image for a downloadable pdf and enjoy your colouring!

pangolin-colouring-2017-v2

Palawan forest turtle

The Palawan forest turtle, also known as the Philippine pond turtle, is one of the rarest, most endangered, and least known turtles in the world. It is only found in five municipalities in Northern Palawan, Philippines and nowhere else in the world!

turtle

This species lives in small streams in lowland forests. The beautiful coloration of juveniles and the impressive bodies of adults are rarely seen because the species is extremely shy and nocturnal. At dusk they emerge from their dens and shelters to forage on aquatic invertebrates, plants and wild fruits that fall into the stream. The latter helps to regenerate the riverine habitat since most of the seeds germinate after passing through the digestive tract. Adults also feed on the invasive golden apple snail, an alien pest species, while juveniles take mosquito larvae. By doing so they help reduce agricultural pest species and invertebrate-borne diseases.

Though physically extremely tough, the species is susceptible to stress and has low fertility. They are not doing well in captivity and have never been successfully captive bred.
Text re-posted from the Arkive blog

Colour your own Palawan forest turtle
Click on the image for a downloadable pdf

forest-turtle-colouring