DUMAGUETE CITY – A young couple who started an initiative early this year to save “malnourished” zoo animals in Amlan, Negros Oriental has sought support locally and internationally amid a growing “controversy” over the welfare of these creatures.
Corrine Alexa Utzurrum Saligue, 36, and her husband, Iric, 41, embarked on a campaign last month to feed the animals, some of them imported, at the Amlan Nature and Adventure Park, after seeing social media posts of their seemingly neglected conditions.
“It was heart-rending to see some posts on Facebook by Rhanette Jorolan showing some animals, such as a tiger named Acron, in the zoo struggling to survive and reports were circulating that they were underfed,” Saligue said.
The first time the couple visited the zoo, together with their son Caleb, now 4-years-old, was before the Covid-19 pandemic, and back then they appeared to be still in good shape, she said.
And when the pandemic struck and led to community lockdowns and restrictions, the zoo deteriorated fast as it failed to make an income.
Since then, the animals suffered from hunger and diseases, she added.
Not having any inkling about the controversies surrounding the zoo’s management and operations, Saligue started a donation drive on social media for food and other supplies needed at the zoo.
About two weeks ago, the Saligue family and some volunteers delivered the first batch of raw meat, vegetables, other foodstuffs and a freezer to the zoo.
A veterinarian also came to check on the health of the animals, which included three tigers, three miniature horses, a camel, two ostriches, snakes of different types, crocodiles, Chinese turtles, a peacock, and a variety of birds.
Responding to her appeal for help, local donors, and even those living abroad, such as in Hong Kong and Mexico, responded to the drive to save the zoo animals and has collected PHP50,000 so far.
“I try to space out the food delivery as we need to stretch the budget while waiting for a more permanent solution to the current problems surrounding the status of the zoo and the animals,” Saligue said.
Controversy at the zoo
According to her, she only learned later that contrary to social media posts blaming the local government unit (LGU) for the dire condition of the zoo and the animals, it turns out that there exists a private-public partnership between the Amlan government and a corporation known as the Dreamland Nature and Adventure Park (DNPA).
Headed by Wilfredo Chiu, the DNPA incorporators included former Amlan Mayor Bentham Dela Cruz and other town residents, some of them living overseas.
Saligue said she spoke with Chiu who admitted to her that the zoo did not have any income for almost three years because of the pandemic.
On top of that, they were unable to operate now and collect fees because of the supposed “internal problems”.
The DNPA’s resources have depleted, and it is no longer capable to operate the facility, Saligue said.
Tourism officer John Alabata, speaking on behalf of the government said, they could only do so much to save the zoo.
Alabata said the role of the municipal government is very minimal, based on the PPP (Public-Private Partnership) agreement entered into by the previous administration and the corporation.
Mayor Manuel Jose Sycip, in an interview with the Philippine News Agency on Friday, pointed out that based on the PPP agreement, the LGU is not in any way responsible for the maintenance and operations of the zoo, the animals, and its facilities.
“In fact, the LGU is supposed to receive a 10 percent share from the income of the zoo, something which current records show has not happened,” Sycip said.
The mayor said it is unfair for the public to put all the blame on them when it is the corporation that holds the majority of the zoo’s responsibility.
To put a stop to the controversy, the mayor said he called for a meeting with his staff on Thursday to review the PPP, contracts, business permits, and other documentary evidence concerning the zoo operation.
Sycip said he will also contact the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Agriculture for guidance.
On June 16, 2022, the Animal Health and Welfare Division of the Bureau of Animal Industry issued a Show Cause Order against DNPA over certain violations of Republic Act 8485 or the Animal Welfare Act as amended.
It recommended the temporary closure of the zoo to the public while undertaking efforts to ensure that the animals are restored to a healthy state.
A separate certification was issued by the same office noting that the corporation was not on the list of duly registered animal facilities as required by the same law.
Saligue appealed to the corporation and the LGU to settle this “mess” and come up with viable solutions, such as putting the animals for adoption or having another entity take over the operations of the zoo.
In the meantime, she appealed to the public to help their campaign to sustain the feeding of the animals for them to survive.
She noted that there were previous campaigns to take care of the zoo animals, however, sustainability was a problem.
“On this day when we are all celebrating World Wildlife Day, I hope people will put their words into action and not just post comments on social media without even lifting a finger to help us,” she said.
"I also hope all stakeholders will set aside what is perceived to be politics coming into play on this issue".
Saligue and a few others will be going back to the zoo on Saturday, March 4, for another round of delivery and feeding of the animals.
Meanwhile, Gov. Roel Degamo has directed the Provincial Veterinarian’s Office and the Environment and Natural Resources Division to provide the needed assistance.
The governor gave the directive following a visit by Chiu and De la Cruz last week at the Capitol to appeal for help in restoring the animal’s health and repair of the facility, which was operational since 2015. (PNA)