This is going to be an emotional, somewhat rambly post, possibly depressing. But this experience has affected me deeply, so please bear with me as I come to terms with it in the only way I know how: by writing about it.
As many of you know, we visited Bohol on Day 7 of our Philippines tour. The guided tour we’d opted for had included a visit to the Baclayon Python Sanctuary as well as the Tarsier Sanctuary, among others.
I remember being especially excited to see adorable Tarsiers, having read so much about them in encyclopedias and magazines (yep, introverted geek here). I had anticipated that the experience would leave a lasting impression on me, because that’s what travelling does to you, doesn’t it? It pushes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to look at life from an entirely different perspective. Sometimes the process is smooth, and at other times, painful. And that’s precisely why we travel, why we write this blog. The trouble is, I cannot remember the last time it hurt so much.
It all started when we visited the Tarsier Sanctuary. On the way, our guide had informed us that Tarsiers are endangered, partly due to their high sensitivity to environmental changes; human interference, noise etc. stress them out incredibly, and often contribute to almost suicidal deaths of the stressed Tarsiers. This piece of information was concerning, to say the least. So we kept as quiet as we could as we meandered through the small Sanctuary, following directions from silent volunteers (kudos to them!).
However, I noticed that no matter how silent the volunteers and visitors were, this place would never be the serene sanctuary the Tarsiers needed. Standing right in the middle of the Sanctuary, one could clearly hear traffic noises, car horns and human voices – the very factors that may upset the sensitive Tarsiers. I know they are making a herculean effort to protect the species, but to me, as an outsider, the results felt inadequate. I don’t understand economics or politics or anything that is practically useful as far as building a sanctuary is concerned. All I know is that as a human being, it saddened me; it made me feel responsible for not contributing more to conservation.
The experience we had at the Python Sanctuary was worse, if that’s even possible. This sanctuary was more like a zoo. Isolated animals were being kept in tiny cages and left outdoors without any proper protection from the elements. I remember Katara saying, “This is horrible man, get me out of here.”, and she couldn’t have articulated our exact feelings better. I was horrified and speechless. The conditions these animals were being kept in was appalling to say the least.
Just when we thought we’d seen enough, we spotted the python, kept in a separate, tiny, dimly lit room for visitors to hold and take pictures with. The staff in the room didn’t care how you handled the python, possibly didn’t even have any training in handling pythons themselves. I saw a tourist poking the python several times to get a reaction while the staff stood there and smiled and assured him that the python was harmless.
At this point, I was angry, depressed and ready to shout. I was making my way to the exit when I saw baby pythons. In plastic boxes. Yes, you read that right. They were being housed the way we store our groceries.
What kind of conservation leads to animals being shoved into tiny cages and plastic boxes? This is not an effort to conserve biodiversity, it’s just a tourist trap to make some quick cash while the animals suffer or even die. It’s shameful, cruel, horrible and possibly even abusive behaviour and I have no idea how this is being allowed to go on by the relevant authorities. Even writing about it or recalling the experience is upsetting me profoundly. And the worst part is, by actually going there, we basically ended up supporting that behaviour. In hindsight, we should have made the effort to plan the day ourselves instead of going with a set tour. I know we were both incredibly busy with our jobs and moving house in the months leading to the trip, but somehow we should have made it work. And that’s something that I’ll regret for a long time.
We cannot change how we spent the day at Bohol, but in light of the experiences we’ve had, we’ve made a decision. We’ll not visit any facility that condones mishandling/mistreatment of animals from now on. One could argue that a personal change will not make the bigger picture better, but if you ask me, we have to start somewhere, and doing something is better than doing nothing at all. We’re also actively searching for organisations/charities that protect and nurture animals, so if you know of one, please let us know so we can support them, albeit in a tiny way.
Thank you so much for reading this post, Reader. I know it’s far from what we usually write in our blog, and your support means so much. I’m still upset and deeply saddened by the whole experience, but somehow writing about it has made me feel a little better. I hope this experience ushers in a positive change in our mutual and individual lives, and inspires us to be more empathetic towards all creatures we share our environment with.
P.S. Bohol does have good things to visit as well such as the Chocolate Hills & the man-made forest. We recommend self-planning & executing the trip over a set tour.
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