3/21/2010

EL NINO AND THE MONKEYS

Since its official declaration as a tourist spot in the 1990', Makilala has become known not just in the Philippines but in other parts of the world as well.

The dry spell brought by the El Niño phenomenon has affected the primary tourist attraction of the small village: monkeys.

Barangay New Israel is recognized by the Makilala local government unit as one of the local tourism destination in North Cotabato because of the numerous monkeys living harmoniously with the villagers. According to Darwin Paraiso, Concilman of Barangay New Israel, 100.000 visitors, including foreigners, have already been to the monkey sanctuary. Proof of this are the old log books filed in the visitors' stockroom.

Monkeys are free to move from one place to another without fear of being killed by the villagers since the Barangay Council passed a resolution protecting these creatures. Paraiso said, ''these animals even play with us and our children and visitors who happen to visit our place''.

Local tourists coming from the neighboring towns in North Cotabato and provinces of Davao del Sur, Bukindon and Maguindanao usually have their field trips in the village to enjoy observing these monkeys.

According to Darwin Paraiso, some of the areas close to 1,000 free-roaming monkeys have fled to a nearby forested mountain to search for food as the unusually high temperature cause severe damage to crops. It started when severe heat due to the El Niño phenomenon wilted some crops in the village, banana plants, which are the monkeys' main sustenance, were among to affect the crops. The monkeys have also started fighting during feeding time, particularly over bananas donated by Dole. He said this fights often resulted to deaths, particularly of small and aged monkeys.

''This may be the reason that some of these animals abandoned our place, preferring to live in the mountainous side of the village''. Most of those who stayed in the village, however, have resorted to stealing food like biscuits and bread from residents, prompting the community to install iron grills and screens on the windows'', Paraiso said.

Despite this, the villagers still refrain from harming the creatures. ''We love them, that is why we are protecting them''.

Experience: A few years ago, as a custom, we were welcomed by a leader of the community, a good-natured woman in her 60s. No monkeys at all in the street !!! I asked her about the monkeys, I wanted confirmation. I have heard about it from different sources and I'd like to see them by myself. Quickly, she shouted ''Mike!'' In no time, monkeys came out one after the other.

And their leader, the biggest of them was Mike.

The monkeys were tamed. They waited for something. It seemed as if they already knew why we were there. Upon seeing our presence for them their eyes sparkled and moved to get it from our hands. Some managed to seize food from our vehicle and from the little store nearby.

Those monkeys are from the macaque family. Macaca fascicularis- Philippine long tailed macaque or the crab eating macaque.

Makilala is located in the province of North Cotabato, Mindanao Island, the second largest island of the Philippines. How to go to Makilala ? (by car) From Davao City, drive south until the town of Digos (53 km.), turn right to Kidapawan (the way to Cagayan de Oro) and drive 70 km. From General Santos drive North until Digos (80 km.) and turn left to Kidapawan, same than above.

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