NegOcc’s Kilometer Zero: Dream Wildlife Park

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone? They paved paradise to put up a parking lot.” I hum with the song “Big Yellow Taxi” and if you haven’t yet, listen to its words.

RIGHT in the middle of Bacolod City – within a few meters of Km 0 or the centerpoint of the province of Negros Occidental – is an oasis. Trees have grown in this area, perhaps now serving the island’s core kilometer as its lungs.

Beside the green and open spaces of Capitol Lagoon is a refuge for critically endangered animals – the NFEFI Biodiversity Conservation Center, a wildlife rescue and captive breeding facility set up in the 90s.

The Center has been there long enough that the people of this city must already know and appreciate the value of this important spot.
Or do we?

The center may be taken for granted by some because it has existed there for more than 20 years, and may still be even unknown to some. This is why we need to keep telling the people of our growing city, of our developing province, the essential role and existence that the Biodiversity Conservation Center has in our past, our present, and more so, in our future.

The wildlife in the center represents our natural and cultural heritage. Many of the species there are endemic, or found only in the Negros-Panay Faunal region.

A lot of them there cannot be easily found in the wild anymore, due to overhunting or loss of habitat. They are part of our natural history and ecological interdependence. What happens to these animals will impact our essence as people of Negros.

A Science teacher from a local private school once reached out to me, sharing how sometimes their books and lesson plans use foreign, exotic animals like giraffes, elephants and zebras, more than local wildlife. He asked if I could share materials on native and endemic animals and plants. Thankfully, over the years, there has been a rise of awareness and care for our local wildlife.

A lot of resources and support are already available to those who seek education and exposure to Philippine biodiversity. In Bacolod City, we are fortunate to have organizations like the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. (PBCFI) especially for wildlife research.

But the best way to learn about our ecosystems is to see with our eyes and hear with our ears the animals that are native to our land. I told my Science teacher friends if they haven’t brought their students yet to the center, that they should. More than a decade ago, I was also one student in a field trip there – and later on enrolled in the center’s Junior Zookeeper Workshop, a milestone in my love for nature and wildlife.

I met not just the Negros warty pig, or the Negros bleeding-heart pigeon, but also the biologists and wildlife vets who were there to answer my endless questions. My interactions with them deeply inspired me, and perhaps I have become one of them who are passionate advocates for nature.

My respect, love, and gratitude goes to all the many people who have worked with and for the Center, through all its ups and downs, and all its successes and challenges.

The true way to honor NFEFI’s vision by William Oliver and the founders, the individuals and organizations who have volunteered or seflessly rendered their time and expertise, and the Provincial Government of Negros Occidental and countless citizens who supported the cause over the years – is to keep the work going.

Now known as Save Negros Forest Foundation Inc., the former NFEFI is in another chapter with Talarak Foundation, for the Biodiversity Conservation Center to continue being a part of Bacolod City’s and Negros Island’s culture and future.

Some of the critically endangered species that were bred in captivity will finally find refuge in reforested and protected areas as planned, but while they’re being taken care of the foundation, we could help.

Let’s continue visiting the center as our entrance fees contribute to the upkeep.

It has started offering Negros organic coffee and some snacks, too.

The Center remains available for guided tours or educational visits for schools and companies. And my favorite part is the Animal Adoption Scheme – anyone can help support the animal(s) by sharing costs for their care for a year.

You don’t get to take home the animals or own them of course, but you get free passes to the center to visit them and truly feel connected to the work being done for these wildlife.

I dream that when the current generations of millennials grow older as leaders of Negros society, we already have succeeded reforesting and protecting significant expanses of our forest land, with some heavily guarded and well-managed reserves or refuges for the warty pigs and spotted deer and hornbills in the wild.

And that the Biodiversity Conservation Center is still there – maybe even expanded to be integrated to our Capitol Lagoon as a wildlife park connected to our Negros Museum.

It’s only a dream, but imagine the trees in this area still standing, with even animals running by while you’re jogging in the middle of the city.

There are real-life models for this and I’ve seen this happen – wild ducks and birds and squirrels just going about their lives in green, open and public spaces of Lincoln Park in Washington DC, and Central Park in New York City.

I still need to check with colleagues in conservation what they think of deer and pigs walking free in certain areas of this dream wildlife park, perhaps surrounded by tall commercial structures we now see slowly growing, but nevertheless in safe care and continuing love of the city’s people.
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