All there is to know about the recent and past cases of rare animals on the loose in the metro
Early August was like a round of a fictional board game—action-packed with a touch of the absurd.
The government has reimposed the Modified Enhanced Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Community Quarantine or MECQ in Metro Manila and, all of a sudden, various animals have been spotted nationwide casually strolling in cities. Sana all, right?
The million-dollar question of the month: Who’s playing Jumanji?
Some take the idea of wildlife entering our concrete jungles as nature’s way of reclaiming the world. This could be true,or the quarantine blues may have turned many of us into mad conspiracy theorists. Suffice it to say, we’re biting down hard into these beastie stories, a very hot topic on social media right now, especially here in the Philippines.
A scene from the 1995 film Jumanji starring Robin Williams
Exotic animals loitering in urban areas from around the globe have become everyday news. These feral creatures have started to take advantage of places that are mostly empty and on lockdown thanks to the pandemic. From Buenos Aires to New Delhi, parcels of deer, troops of lemurs, bands of coyotes, and other rare animal groups you don’t usually see in human territory have started to come out to explore, search for food, or play around.
In our country, however, exotic animals running wild where they don’t belong is all together another story. How so? The answer lies in the present and past cases of unusual animals lost in our cities.
Most of us may be aware of the recent exploit of two ostriches in a subdivision in Quezon City (QC) on Aug. 4. The large flightless birds were seen running around the streets of Mapayapa Village 3 early morning that day. This occurrence is where the entire Jumanji hullabaloo and the string of reports about exotic animal sightings in major cities began. Netizens poked fun at the unusual circumstance by claiming that someone must have been playing the magical board game. Everyone had a good laugh. But not all took this lightly. In fact, because of this event, the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to carry out tighter measures in granting permits to keep wildlife as pets. Of course, the DENR had taken action way before the appeal by investigating the matter.
Meanwhile, on Aug. 5, a pig disrupted the flow of traffic in Cebu City when it traversed the northbound lane of the flyover in Barangay Banilad at 8:30 a.m.. On the same day, but this time in the Western Visayan region, at 3 p.m., a cow surprised motorists by moseying in the middle of Iloilo’s Diversion Road.
The following day, Aug. 6, photos of a brahminy kite or red-backed sea-eagle circulated online. It was reported that the eagle would frequently visit the harbor square of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Complex in Pasay City. It is also believed that the eagle comes from the sanctuary called Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area, popularly known as the LPPCHEA or LaPPaCHEA, the only remaining bird sanctuary in Metro Manila.
The million-dollar question of the month: Who’s playing Jumanji?
It’s not peculiar to see squirrels in highly urbanized places such as Metro Manila. Seven years ago, on June 21, a tarsier, one of the smallest known primates in the world, was found in the posh Manila Golf and Country Club in Forbes Park, Makati City. To be clear, the Philippine tarsier is an endemic species supposedly found only in the southeastern part of the archipelago, particularly on the islands of Bohol, Samar, Leyte, and Mindanao. So then how did it get to Manila?
The saucer-eyed little creature was clinging on a low-lying branch of a tamarind tree near the caddies’ barracks. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (DENR-PAWB) eventually took custody of the animal. A month before this incident, the DENR also noted that a baby tarsier was seen at the house of a famous singer in the private subdisivion. It died of stress, however, before the agency was able to rescue it.
Jumbo, 21 years old, was the largest—and perhaps the most deviant—among the 10 elephants from Thailand, which were at the time in the country to perform at a show at the Araneta Center, Quezon City. The eight-foot-tall mammal broke his way out of the circus tent in Cubao, injuring two animal trainers. The rest of the animal caretakers were helpless against the giant elephant, which was able to cross the road from Araneta Center toward Ramon Magsaysay High School, even going against the flow of traffic on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA). Some theorized that Jumbo was agitated by the summer heat while veterinarian Oyi Sebastian speculated that it was the elephant’s mating season. On the other hand, PAWS thought that Jumbo was being mistreated, hence his action. Having calmed down at 3 p.m. the elephant was retrieved by the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA).
On Aug. 7, “Pharsa” became one of the top trending hashtags on Twitter for two reasons. First because of the new skin for a character named Pharsa released by the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game Mobile Legends. And second, because of a photo of a peafowl chilling outdoors in a subdivision in Alabang, Muntinlupa. In an interview with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, the owner of the post that went viral, Chico Cabalatungan, confessed that he would always see the birds—yes, there were more than one—near the house of their keeper. “They're non aggressive and opt to shy away from people,” he said. “Several times, I saw two of them walking together.” The non aggressive behavior of a peafowl or any animal for that matter is an indication of how well it is taken care of.
While there are responsible exotic pet owners, there are also neglectful ones. On Aug. 8, one of the two ostriches that ran amok in QC died. Environment undersecretary Benny Antiporda claims that the death of the bird was due to stress considering it was chased after on the streets. The exact cause of death is still unknown. It was also learned that the owner of the exotic pets did not have the proper paper work to keep them. The other ostrich is currently in custody of Wildlife Rescue Center in QC.
By now you should’ve seen the pattern. The animals that have been wandering around some of our cities in the Philippines are those that have been brought in by people themselves. Yes, owning exotic pets is legal, as long as legal permission has been obtained. Owners would need to secure a a Certificate of Wildlife Registration (CWR) from the DENR. This document would cost about P50 to P1,000 depending on the number of species you are planning to register. Another restriction is that only exotic pets acquired from DENR-registered breeders and sellers are eligible for CWR. Threatened and endangered species will never be allowed as pets.
Tips for exotic pet owners
If you’re thinking of adopting an exotic animal, an important thing to consider is that they are extremely delicate and a couple of times more high maintenance than regular domesticated pets. Here are helpful tips from animal experts—hobbyist and Keepers of Extreme Exotic Philippines (KEEP) member Vixvy Panugayan, administrator of the Nueva Ecija Exotic Club Joane Cruz, reptile breeder and enthusiast from Zoo Med Philippines Lendl Christopher Lin, and hobbyist Arjan Cheng—that new and even seasoned exotic pet owners should know.
1. Buy only from legal sources.
As previously mentioned, keeping exotic animals needs proper papers and permits from the DENR. Purchasing from DENR-registered breeders and sellers is the only way to go.
2. Research is a must.
Before getting an exotic pet, you should first do extensive researchonthe animal you’re planning to get. For example, snakes are easier to keep than mammals since they do not need to eat daily. There are other exoticanimals that have strict husbandry requirements, including proper humidity, substrate, temperature, and lighting. Another thing to look up is its feeding needs and behavior.
3. Keep interaction to a minimum.
There are thousands of years of evolutionary difference between a domestic and a wild animal. The former, like dogs and cats don’t do well without people, while the latter is the exact opposite. Remember to respect the animal’s space at all time.
4. Take extra care and safety.
Be sure you can keep exotic animals in safe places, where they won’t be able to get out of their enclosures. This is for the safety of those around them and for the animal itself.
Exotic pets are harder to care for in terms of the special food considerations and the special housing you need to provide for them, which cannot be obtained from the normal suppliers. One needs to provide the utmost care and living areas for them to thrive and grow the right way.