Private zoo owners decry pressure from DENR 7

By Marian Z. Codilla |September 16,2013 - 05:26 AM

RAINFOREST PARK. The aquarium where exotic and some endangered marine animals forms a backdrop in the park’s restaurant. (Junjie Mendoza)

We love our animals so much. This is an extension of our home.”

This was the statement of the owner of BG Rainforest Park Cebu, Butch Guillen who talked to the media together with his family to vehemently deny maltreating their animals displayed in their mini zoo as they consider them their babies, including four Green Sea turtles which will be released to the wild today.

“We know they can’t propagate here. Even before we were called for a technical conference, we really intended to release them to the wild once their shells (carapace) are hard enough. We are willing to release it. But now we feel harassed, Guillen said in a press conference.

He said the allegations of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and environment advocates are baseless, biased and unjust because they have been taking good care of these animals hiring three caretakers, a veterinarian and an aquarist who maintains the sanitation and health of the water in their aquariums.

BG Rainforest Park Cebu was opened more than a year ago after their family decided to venture in this kind of business. They started as a restaurant and then later decided to make it into a park.

“We are animal lovers. We have a lot of animals at home, said Tara Guillen, vice president for marketing.

Everyday they get to entertain 300 to 500 guests on a weekday and higher on weekends.

The park includes the Oceanarium Restaurant, Amazon’s Aviary and Tarzan’s House, Jungle Adventures, Oasis Spa and Salon, Zoofari Cafe, Tribe’s Bar and the Rainforest Gift Shop all located in a 3,000 square meter leased property.

Tara said approximately 32,100 students from 214 different schools in Cebu have visited their park since they opened in August 18, 2011.

The park was recognized as the Best Park in 2012 by the Business Achievement and Recognition Awards and was told to receive the same recognition on April 2013 by the same award-giving body.

“The main purpose of this establishment is to create educational awareness pursuant to the Wildlife Act of the Philippines. Our primary intention is to campaign for the environment which is the mandate of DENR, but instead we are being harassed and seemingly given a bad impression. Supposedly DENR should support and encourage companies like us that we are heading in the same direction as them,” Tara said.

Butch challenged the environmentalists who accused them of maltreating the animals to give the people an alternative solution for learning about the wildlife in Cebu instead of just talking.

Based on DENR’s accounting, the park has 104 animals including threatened, critically endangered and endangered species.

Butch said most of the animals were bought, while some were donated like the four Green Sea turtles. They initially invested P5 million to develop the park and improved every time they have available funds.

“Emotionally, yes we have second thoughts (of releasing it) but we are trying to be emotionally and mentally prepared to release it because they are now attached to us,” Tara said.

Rica said they are going to release all four sea turtles to the wild but decided to release it in the Olango Wildlife Sanctuary not in the South Road Properties.

“It is better that all four will be released. The wound of the other turtle can heal faster in their natural habitat,” Rica told Cebu Daily News.

The family promised to give all necessary documents to DENR by April 8 and agreed to improve their facility in accordance to the DENR’s specification.

Tara said their office was repeatedly bombarded with calls from DENR pushing them to release the turtles earlier than the agreed date.

In her phone conversation with DENR-PAWB chief Ariel Rica, while she was trying to clarify some details, Rica allegedly did not accommodate her inquiries and instead told her: Sunod nalang mo para di mudako inyong kaso. (Just follow our orders so the cases against you will become more grave.)

The family is contemplating of filing a case of harassment to the Ombudsman against Protected Areas and Wildlife division chief Jose Layese Jr., Rica, Esmero, and Baltazar.


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