Philippine macaques in Mount Apo Natural Park, Philippines
By: Errol A. Gatumbato
Makilala, Cotabato, Philippines… If one is interested in experiencing direct interaction with terrestrial wild animals that are not in captivity, then one upland barangay in this municipality offers a very interesting story about the harmonious and pleasant relationship between the wildlife and communities. Located at the foothills of the famous Mount Apo Natural Park in South-Central Mindanao, the remote village of New Israel in the municipality of Makilala in Cotabato province is a showcase on how local residents are taking good care of the threatened Philippine macaques (Macaca fascicularis) or monkeys. Similarly, the monkeys reciprocate a friendly and gracious behavior, as a response to the kind attention accorded to them by local folks.
In this village, hurting or maltreating the monkeys is absolutely prohibited. A close to a hundred monkeys inhabit in a nearby-forested area of Barangay New Israel and they frequently visit the village to interact with the residents. A person with a monkey at the shoulder is an ordinary sight in Barangay New Israel. In the morning, the monkeys are also parading with the children in going to an elementary school with some of monkeys are holding at the kids’ backpacks. Residents of this upland community treat the monkeys as pets and the children are also playful to these animals. Interestingly, the monkeys, which we all know are banana-eating creations, does not touch the banana plantation and agricultural crops in the area but they only wait to be fed by residents.
As a matter of practice, members of the community set aside certain portion of their banana produce to feed the monkeys. Some residents claim that the monkeys are not greedy because there are still available wild food plants in adjacent areas of the community. To show that villagers are getting accustomed to the behavior of monkeys, they seal their windows and doors with chicken wires so that the monkeys could not enter the houses and may not be tempted to steal food and destroy household equipment and materials. The Philippine Macaques are already listed as threatened species in the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of the Philippines. Threatened species is a general term to denote species or sub-species considered as critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable or other accepted categories of wildlife whose population is at risk of extinction in the wild. Hurting, hunting and killing threatened animals are prohibited except on extremely necessary circumstances.
Since Barangay New Israel is one of the take off points in trekking to the summit of Mount Apo, which is the highest peak of the Philippines, community members are keen in ensuring the potential of the area for ecological tourism. The village is free of clutter, as residents are practicing proper solid waste management and certain part is a smoking-free zone. Every house has a garden with beautiful and colorful flowers and orchids. Campsite, parking area, souvenir shop and mini-park are also available in the village. Residents of Barangay New Israel also protect the forests to ensure that the habitat of monkeys and other wildlife species are maintained.
My visit to this place was part of my familiarization on the different features of Mount Apo relative to my engagement as a consultant to the enhancement of the MANP general management plan, commissioned by the United States Agency for International Development supported Eco-Governance Project. One of the important considerations in the development of the MANP management plan is the potential of the area for ecotourism. The case of Mount Apo, however, is quite very unique because its management requires a lot of considerations. Aside from ecotourism and biological diversity, one of the other most important concerns in Mount Apo is the ancestral domain of the Indigenous People. Vast areas of MANP are being claimed as ancestral domains of IPs, dominated by Bagobo, Tagabawa and Klata Tribes. The National Council for Indigenous People has already awarded Certificate of Ancestral Domain Titles to these IP groups. Harmonizing the interest of IPs and other communities in relation to ecotourism development and biodiversity conservation is indeed a very challenging task, but the case of Barangay New Israel, where people and wildlife co-exist, is worth looking into as a model of a real conservation initiative.
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