Calauit Safari Park: African Animals Roam Free in the Philippines?

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After arriving in Busuanga, we were quick to realize we weren’t in Kansas anymore. Especially when we learned about the Calauit Safari Park.

Much of the island is undeveloped and home to a small group of settlers that have forged their way to the island from other bustling places in the Philippines. 

As part of our photo safari with Tribal Adventures, we spent our first day traveling across the island with 4×4 trucks through rivers, dirt paths, rickety bridges and places where there really weren’t any roads.

We were on a mission to reach the northwestern side of Busuanga for a chance to explore Calauit Island and figure out why there is a population of African animals roaming free in the Philippines.

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Philippines (Travel Guide)


Calauit Safari Park: Africa in the Philippines


History of Calauit Island

Caluit Island Safari Park Palawan Philippines
Dock at Calauit Island

In 1977 the island of Calauit, located on the Northwestern edge of Busuanga, was named a wildlife sanctuary and game preserve. The 3,700 hectares that make up the island have been left in a natural state and animals from Africa were moved to this island as participation in preserving African animals.

In the beginning, 8 different species of African animals, native to Kenya, were introduced to the island. Today they live in harmony with several endemic species native to Palawan.

If you are up for an adventure, you can travel overland through the sparsely populated island of Busuanga for a few hours to the Northwestern edge, where you can take a 15-minute boat ride and begin your own discovery of Calauit Island.

Originally a conservation project, the public is now welcome to visit the island and get a chance for a closeup encounter with the resident animals, especially the zebras and giraffes.

If someone would have told me I could road open land in the Philippines amongst some of Africa’s most popular species, I would have called you crazy. Low and behold, it is possible.

Welcome to Africa… er…the Philippines

Caluit Island Safari Park Palawan Philippines
First view of African Animals

We arrived at the Calauit Safari Park in the early afternoon and made the short boat ride across the placid inlet before docking and making our way to the entrance checkpoint.

From here, it was a 20-minute hike through the forest until we reached an opening that shocked me. There, in the middle of the Philippines, was the African savannah.

The inhabitants of this island have made it home and in doing so have transformed the landscape into an exact replica of their native land. They were helped by reforestation efforts on the island prior to their arrival, which cleared the bamboo and removed many of the native species.

Today the island is a very clear picture of something you would see in Africa.

It is quite a surreal experience to see giraffes and zebras wandering around at will. These animals are not tame by any means, the guides are sure to keep an eye on you and be sure you maintain a safe distance from them as they move freely through the area.

There is a select herd of zebras and giraffes that hang out in the main area that you arrive to, these guys are more tolerant of seeing people and are less shy.

Caluit Island Safari Park Palawan Philippines

 

Caluit Island Safari Park Palawan Philippines

 

Caluit Island Safari Park Palawan Philippines

We spent the better part of 3 hours wandering the main area and taking photos before taking a trek further into the park to observe some of the other species that exist there.

The idea is that the animals are free-roaming, the exception being a small number of animals they have caged for observation. You can get an up-close look at this if you are into it, for me, I am not much into the zoo look. I much preferred mingling amongst the free-roaming animals in the park.

How, Why?

Caluit Island Safari Park Palawan Philippines Giraffe

I suppose you are wondering why there is such a place in the Philippines, it was something I couldn’t quite wrap my head around either. Upon asking, we were given two versions of the truth.

Both revolving around the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the locals will tell you that Marcos attended an endangered animal summit in Africa and was motivated for the Philippines to participate in the conservation and protection of endangered African animals.

So he had this island cleared and imported 104 animals, by boat from Kenya, to Calauit Island to assist in preservation efforts. This was the very beginning of the Calauit Safari Park.

Caluit Island Safari Park Palawan Philippines Zebra
Baby zebra!

The opposing story goes a little more towards the flexing of muscles by Marcos to create a tourism project, in which he forcefully took the land in Calauit and imported the African animals for personal reasons.

Either way, the project at Calauit hangs in the balance with a lack of funding.  This information gave me a double-edged feeling for our visit. I can certainly say that having the opportunity to be so close to such amazing animals and photograph them was a special experience for me.

However, I can understand the concerns that surround the island and the locals need to be extra cautious about minimizing the impact of tourism on the animals.

That being said, if you’re curious, hop on a plane to Busuanga and head into Coron Town to the Tribal Adventures office. They’ll arrange an adventure you won’t soon forget.

How to Visit the Calauit Safari Park

Caluit Island Safari Park Palawan Philippines Giraffe Zebra

Most people will base themselves in the popular tourist hub of Coron Town on Busuanga island and take various day trips from there. This is the most popular way to see the Calauit Safari Park. 

To visit, you can arrange a tour that will include transportation either by land or by boat to Calauit Island. The tours leave from Coron Town and are generally part of a full-day itinerary that will include stops at other islands or beaches on Busuanga Island. 

It is also possible to visit Calauit Safari Park as part of a multi-day island hopping trip around the area. It is a popular trip on both kayak and boat trips in the area. 

Our Top Recommended Day Tour: Coron Calauit Safari Tour E

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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA



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2 thoughts on “Calauit Safari Park: African Animals Roam Free in the Philippines?”

  1. Hi Lina,

    I saw your tweet and looked up your post. We are planning to go to the Philippines and I defenitely was very curious about zebras and giraffes on a philippino island. How come?! It still sounds strange to me. Well, good to k ow and maybe we get to Calauit Island, just because it’s so hatd to believe ?

    Safe teavels,
    Reni

    Reply
    • Yes, it was a very strange but cool thing to see in the Philippines! Hope you make it over that way, Busuanga and Palawan are stunning.

      Reply

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