Snuggling up to your pet pooch is great, but swimming with sharks and posing with tarsiers is better
How many spectacular wildlife encounters can you claim? A glimpse of an orangutan? Snorkeling with baracuda? Head to the Philippines and your number will almost certainly increase.
With an estimated 6,000 plant species, 1,100 land vertebrate species, 100 mammal species and 170 land species that are exclusive to the Philippines, if it’s a date with nature you’re looking for, this is one biodiversity hotspot that won’t fail to impress.
1. Befriend a butanding
Go big on animal love with these huge blue-grey, silver-spotted whale sharks locally called butandings. These plankton-eating gentle giants — the largest fish in the world — measure about 14 meters and weigh more than 1,500 kilograms.
Whale sharks are regularly spotted in Donsol, Sorsogon and you can expect to see more than a dozen during the peak months from February to April.
The province’s tourism website provides detailed information on how to arrange a snorkeling date with the butandings in Donsol. Recently, the town of Olsob in the southern tip of Cebu made international news when its fishermen were discovered to hand feed and play with the very sociable whale sharks there.
2. Marvel at the majestic Philippine eagle
The Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) is one of the largest, rarest and most powerful eagles in the world. This giant forest raptor is critically endangered with only 400 pairs remaining.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Philippine Eagle Foundation, they have successfully captive-bred 18 eagles. Thirty-six eagles are housed at the Philippine Eagle Center, at the foothills of Mt. Apo in Davao, before being reintroduced back to the wild.
See them at the center or you may join their volun-tourism program, assisting the team monitor the eagles in their natural forest habitat.
3. Swim with sharks
Die-hard divers often gleam with excitement when they learn of Malapascua Island. Gary Cases, IDC Staff Instructor and a seasoned diver of 36 years, and the first Filipino to establish a dive shop in Malapascua says, “It’s a rare place known to have regular sightings of thresher sharks and white tips.”
Throughout the year these sharks can be spotted in Monad Shoal. This seamount near Malapascua Island is a part of their migration path. Divers are fascinated with the sharks’ unusually long, thresher-like tails, which can be as long as their bodies.
4. Mingle with a million bats
Take a cue from Batman and head to the bat cave. In Samal Island, just 900 meters east of Davao City, there resides the world’s largest colony of Geoffrey Rousette fruit bats.
The 300-meter long underground Monfort Bat Cave — their home — has received a Guinness World Record for being housing such a huge number of bats, with the cave’s walls completely covered in the critters.
These nocturnal animals rest during the day, but the buzz of their bat calls remains audible. When the wind blows, a phosphorus and nitrogen rich guano scent lingers.
5. Witness a mass migration
While there is an undeniable diaspora of millions of overseas Filipinos around the world, an interesting phenomenon happens every year — more than 40,000 migrate to one particular island in the Philippines.
Every winter, 48 species of birds head to Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary near Cebu City. The 1,030-hectare sandflat and mangrove area is a refueling station for birds coming from Siberia, North China and Japan.
Most impressive is the presence of threatened species like the Chinese egret and the Asian dowitcher. The best time to visit is November to February, when the migration is at its peak.
6. Pose with a tiny tarsier
At 8.5-16 centimeters in height, the Philippine tarsier, Tarsius syrichta, is a tough catch. This nocturnal animal also has excellent night vision, with huge eyes bulging out of its head, so wannabe wooers have their work cut out.
Luckily enterprising Filipinos display the tiny primate for tourists to photograph near the Loboc River. But it is even better to encounter them at the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary at the foothills of the forest in the town of Corella, Bohol, where you can see them in their natural habitat.
Tourists can view the tarsiers in a one-hectare netted enclosure, but which still allows the tarsiers to hunt and move around the rest of the sanctuary.
7. Play with dolphins
There are many opportunities for dolphin watching in Philippine waters, but for year-round chances head to Pamilacan Island in Bohol. Whales can be seen from February to June too.
Instead of earning a living as whale hunters, the community at Pamilacan Island has been offering whale- and dolphin-watching Tours for the last five years. The playful dolphins often engage tourists in a game of tag, riding alongside your boat, repeatedly leaping above the water then plunging down into the depths again.
- Donsol’s Biggest Catch (sorsogoncity.wordpress.com)
- IslandsPhilippines.net Introduces the Philippines From High Lands to Deep Waters (prweb.com)