WATCH: Why the Calauit Safari Park is a rare experience 

Isagani de Castro Jr.

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WATCH: Why the Calauit Safari Park is a rare experience 

FEEDING. Visitors to Calauit Safari Park get to feed giraffes on the 3,400-hectare wildlife sanctuary in Busuanga, Palawan, on May 25, 2024.

Isagani de Castro, Jr./Rappler

What's been referred to as 'Bongbong's Safari' in Calauit Island, Palawan, used to have over 100 imported African wildlife. Today, it only has 18 descendant giraffes and 27 zebras with no full-time vet.

PALAWAN, Philippines – Whether you’re an ordinary tourist wishing to experience a low-cost safari in the Philippines or an environmentalist concerned about wild animals, you will find a visit to the 3,400-hectare Calauit Safari Park in the town of Busuanga, Palawan, a unique experience. 

All the 104 wild African animals – 11 elands, 12 waterbucks, 15 giraffes, 15 zebras, 18 impalas, 11 gazelles, 10 topis, 12 bushbucks – imported by then-president Ferdinand Marcos from Kenya from 1976-1977 are dead. But some of their descendants, including 18 giraffes and 27 zebras, are still there. It’s also home to the Calamian Deer.

Calauit Safari Park was an ill-conceived project of the late president and his wife, Imelda, who said in an interview in the 2019 documentary The Kingmaker that she wanted to “complete paradise” in the Philippines by bringing African wildlife to her country after seeing the animals in Kenya.

Despite a ban on exporting wildlife from that African country, her husband allegedly bribed then-Kenyan leader Jomo Kenyatta to agree to ship animals to the Philippines. That was according to the Marcoses’ friend, the late Texas rancher Frank Yturria, who helped in the project.

Several hundred residents of Calauit Island, mostly Tagbanuas, were evicted to make way for the game preserve, but some returned after the Marcoses were overthrown in 1986.

Calauit is the only place in Philippines with this many giraffes and zebras freely roaming on an island, and many tour operators in nearby Coron Island have included this in their offerings. 

WATCH: Why the Calauit Safari Park is a rare experience 

Visitors have fun feeding the giraffes with their favorite greens with only a small metal fence separating them. It’s also unique being able to approach the zebras in the park as they roam freely, a much better experience than seeing them enclosed in a small zoo. Don’t get too near the zebras, though; unlike horses, some of the zebras are temperamental and can give dangerous kicks!

Calauit Safari Park is also a learning experience for those interested in managing nature reserves. The park is perhaps a classic case of how not to run a safari park – it’s poorly managed, doesn’t get enough funds from both the national and local government, and is an embarrassment when compared to Singapore’s Night Safari and other safaris around the world. 

PURPLE TUMMY. One of the zebras in the Calauit Safari Park on Calauit Island, Busuanga, Palawan, has medicine on its injured underbelly sustained from fighting. Isagani de Castro, Jr./Rappler

The park has no full-time veterinarian. Some of the animals frequently fight, leaving them wounded, thus the purple-colored medicine applied on them. Inbreeding is a problem, the ideal ratio between male and female isn’t met, and the park’s safari truck is poorly maintained.

Wildlife experts predict the remaining giraffes and zebras would eventually pass away and disappear if no new genes are infused and the project still doesn’t get enough support from the national and local government.

If you’re in for real experience of one of the remaining extravagant projects of Ferdinand and Imelda, a visit to Calauit Safari Park is recommended. 

For most visitors, though, that’s probably all water under the bridge. Since most Filipinos will probably never have the chance to fly to Africa or Australia for safari tours, the Calauit Safari Park is a cheaper alternative. Another option is the Cebu Safari and Adventure Park. –

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Isagani de Castro Jr.

Before he joined Rappler as senior desk editor, Isagani de Castro Jr. was longest-serving editor in chief of ABS-CBN News online. He had reported for the investigative magazine Newsbreak, Asahi Shimbun Manila, and Business Day. He has written chapters for books on politics, international relations, and civil society.