By Emme Rose S. Santiagudo, Correspondent
A P30,000 monthly food budget would cover the standard nourishment needed by 54 animals — mostly endangered and vulnerable species endemic to the Visayas — housed at the Mari-it Conservation Park in Lambunao, Iloilo.
The park’s management struggles to raise that amount and is often forced to cut back on the animal’s basic food requirements, according to JB Ian G. Bullo, the center’s veterinarian.
In some instances, he added, the park’s staff would chip in their personal money to cover the feeding expenses.
Mari-it Park is currently home to 16 Visayan hornbills, including the writhe and tariktik hornbills; five Visayan leopard cats, and two Panay cloud rats, which are both vulnerable; 11 critically endangered Visayan warty pigs; and 20 endangered Visayan spotted deer.
Run by the West Visayas State University-College of Agriculture and Forestry (WVSU-CAF), the facility was set up in 1993 through an agreement between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Mulhouse Zoo in France, with the initial purpose of conserving the Visayan spotted deer.
“For the hornbills, they should have standard meal with at least three types of fruits and live food supply like mice, crickets, and worms. Once, we don’t supply live food, they will have a hard time breeding. They are extremely sensitive that once they cannot sustain their offspring, they will abort their eggs,” Mr. Bully said in an interview.
It has been 14 years since the center, for the first time, successfully bred in captivity a writhe hornbills.
“We house the second most endangered hornbills. It is very rare and should be treasured, but no one seems to appreciate it,” the veterinarian lamented.
Mr. Bullo said the goal has been to breed more and have a big enough population to have them reintroduced into the wild.
“The plan is once they increase their population, the animals will be reintroduced to the wild, but what happened was they decreased in number because of the limited funding.”
The leopard cats also do not get their supposed daily serving of live chicken.
“They are carnivores so we are providing them with chicken meat or other type of meat. Pero (But) it is much better if we can give them live food like chicks and mouse,” he said, noting that these cats are usually hunted to be sold in the market for breeding with domestic cats to produce Bengal cat.
Among the five leopard cats in the park are the two recently rescued in Pontieedra, Capiz, and have been named Ponte and Vedra.
To address the financial challenges, Mr. Bullo said the Lambunao local government unit (LGU) has stepped in to help in the development and promotion of the park as an eco-tourism destination.
The LGU and some non-government organizations have been providing funding support to Mari-it, but Lambunao Mayor Reynor R. Gonzales said “it’s not enough.”
“That is why we are promoting Mari-it as an eco-tourism site for it to be self-sustaining,” he said in an interview.
Mr. Gonzales said he also recently met with WVSU-CAF officials to discuss the expansion of the park area.
“In a meeting with WVSU, they agreed to little by little open up some space. If Boracay is along the seacoast, we will promote the park in the hinterlands — from the sea to the forest, the development is continuous,” he said.
The mayor said they are also planning to tap the participation of the surrounding communities by encouraging them to take care of the flora and fauna in the area.
“We have to develop the area in relation to the ecosystem. We need to balance the development in relation to the ecosystem because we provide the conducive place for animals na maka-recover because they are endangered,” he said.
Mr. Gonzales said he will have another meeting with the WVSU to discuss the park’s development program.
“We have a master plan but it needs updating.”