Issue of October 18, 2020
     
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Tourism and nature

I once visited Oslob, Cebu in the early 1980s, when the whales, locally called butandings, that make the best attraction of the place were still rare and wild. We had to wait for three hours before a single butanding appeared. And, even as it appeared, it was elusive and swam away toward the deep part of the ocean. What I saw was only a small portion of its head and the splashing of its huge tail. That was enough to amaze me. The tour guide was quite proud that I was lucky because not all visitors get a chance to witness what I saw.

I visited Oslob again in 2014 and the butandings are no longer wild. They seem to have mysteriously been tamed. They no longer swim away from the coast. Instead, they voluntarily approach the guests, knowing that with people comes food. The visitors, to be as close as possible to the butandings feed them, caress then, and take pictures with them. The interaction between the whales and the tourists is one that can only be categorized as domestication. Somehow, the whales, who scientists say are very intelligent creatures, learned to live with humans and became dependent upon them for their sustenance.

Zoologists and naturalists contend that the domestication of the butandings in Oslob and their being presented as a tourist attraction are dangerous to the well-being of the animal. They say that by being domesticated, the natural cycle of their lives is disrupted. With the comfort of the beach where they are fed, pampered and appreciated, the butandings no longer migrate. For them to stay in a single place all year round is not healthy for their reproduction. But nobody is complaining because if the whales become wild again, a major fraction of Cebu’s economy will suffer.

It is the same in Zambales, where the monkeys freely interact with people. In exchange for a Chippy, a visitor can tap the head of a monkey. The monkeys, in fact, have become so familiar with the territory that if not given morsels of food, they steal the bags and other personal items of the tourists. That is part of the experience though, and visitors are loving every minute of it.

These encounters with wild animals in our favorite tourist spots were put on hold for almost seven months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And, while tourism activities went into hiatus, the natural cycle of things took its course and started to normalize the behavior of the flora and the fauna around us. The whales in Oslob are migrating again, the monkeys in Zambales are retreating to the necks of forests and the tamaraws in Mindoro are proliferating. Grasses are greener along pasture lands. Nature is healing itself from the destructive effects that were inflicted upon it due to human activities. Is this good or is this bad?

With borders of provinces, cities, and municipalities having to shut down to prevent the spread of the virus, the industry called tourism suffered a big blow. People refrained from travelling for fear that they might contract the disease. In the process, there were no tourists. Consequently, workers in the industry started to lose their jobs. Bad for them but good for the environment. The primordial consideration, however, remains to be the welfare of the masses. The whales, the monkeys, and the tamaraws can take care of themselves but people can’t. Hence, something has to be done. There must be a striking balance between the preservation of nature and the opening of tourism.

Now, several tourist spots, Baguio City included, are slowly but surely opening up their borders and allowing visitors to enter. Boracay and Tagaytay City are two of the most prominent places visited and both are responding to the challenge of admitting visitors. Of course, there are still restrictions, but it is a good start to promote tourism. Covid-19 and all, tourism must resume if we are to gain the confidence that everything is under control.

Another problem that must be solved is the need to resume the operation of mass public transportation, specifically provincial buses. It is the only means by which most visitors can gain access to their point of destination. Besides, much like the tourism industry, the transportation industry, too, suffered losses due to the pandemic. Then, after people are allowed to freely roam and become tourists in their own country, they will believe that we have finally healed as one.

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