|By Ross Harper-Alonso
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:49am (Mla time) 05/03/2008
MANILA, Philippines – The Manila Southwoods Golf and
Country Club used to be an exclusive playground for golfers
until they decided to share the fairways with feathered friends
and create a wildlife oasis, not only for members to enjoy,
but also to educate the public on caring for the environment.
Unless one is really looking, it’s easy to miss the
brown shrike standing motionless on the red out of bounds
pole. Locally known as tarat, these are migratory birds known
to use their cleaver-like beaks to kill their prey. Among
their favorites are maya, bats, frogs, snakes and mice.
A few meters away, night herons appear from beneath thick
clusters of trees lining the man-made lagoon. They fly low
to catch fish, their large wings just skimming the water before
they gracefully return to their perches. The tree leaves in
the area are flecked with white, calcified bird droppings,
proof that it has become a favorite roosting site. It’s
not unusual to see drivers of golf carts stop to let the birds
walk across the cemented paths.
“It was important to first raise the level of environmental
awareness within the club,” explained country club administration
staffer Grace Fernandez. “Caddies and ground personnel
were told to stop hunting the bayawak (monitor lizard), snakes,
bats and birds. Later, they understood the company’s
position to develop a wildlife haven within the golf course.
It was a new culture we worked hard to introduce,” she
For many years, it was popular for landscapers to use mono
culture or limit a single plant and tree species to an area.
Palms were planted everywhere to create a Hawaiian atmosphere
until indigenous varieties were introduced.
“More apitong trees and local varieties were planted
to provide the birds with nests and protection,” said
Cheryll Patulot, the club’s resident environmentalist.
“This is our wetlands,” she added, pointing to
a small pond surrounded by mud flats and grasslands. Many
club members felt the area was an eyesore and a serious contrast
to the manicured lawns.
Management had to explain the importance of allowing a few
pockets of natural habitat to grow within the 136-hectare
golf course – a 25-minute ride away from Makati City
– located in Carmona, Cavite province, since not all
birds make their homes in trees.
Fernandez points to two birds swimming peacefully among the
water lilies. “They are common moorhens, water birds
without webbed feet like ducks. They’re migratory birds,
but some have made this pond their permanent home. I guess
that’s a good sign,” she added.
“I’m not a bird expert that’s why we’re
eager to work with the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines to
help us identify different species we’ve spotted here.”
“We already learned something new,” volunteered
Patulot. “I always thought those common brown scavengers
we are forever shooing away from the verandah was our national
bird, the maya. They’re actually Eurasian tree sparrows.
The national bird before it was changed to the Philippine
eagle used to be the chestnut munia, a bird with a black head
and reddish brown body. I pass on this information to students
when they come for educational tours.”
In December 2007, Manila Southwoods was recognized by Audubon
International for its efforts to support environmental stewardship.
Audubon International is a nonprofit environmental education
organization dedicated to providing people with information
and assistance to practice responsible management of land,
water, wildlife and natural resources.
“This award inspired us to take our advocacy to a higher
level,” said club general manager Ramoncito Cabrera.
“We invite schoolchildren and our neighbors to see the
birds in a natural setting or listen to lectures on the environment.
It is impossible to sustain a healthy ecological balance if
we don’t work together.”
“The club’s recycled water is chemical-free and
stored in open reservoirs like the large lagoon,” he
added. “But because there are several natural creeks
that run through the property, we also have to make sure nearby
communities know better than to contaminate the water with
pesticides or household products that harm the wildlife.
“We have a lot to learn, but seeing how much the bird
population has flourished through the years since we became
more environmentally conscious is enough to motivate us to
work harder to make them stay.”
After word got around about their activities, neighboring
communities started to sell them wild birds they had trapped.
“Every week, people showed up with egrets, owls, kingfishers.
We asked Carmona officials to tell them to stop hunting down
the birds. The club and the area around us have since been
declared a protected sanctuary.”
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has also
released in Southwoods birds seized by its men earlier, knowing
they would be safe in the area.
“Being surrounded by nature makes people feel positive,”
said Fernandez. “I thought it was an exciting process
to see how we all learned to co-exist with the birds.
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