With 418 out of 52,177 Philippine species listed as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the country’s biodiversity problem clearly needs to be addressed.
Thankfully, The Sunday Times Magazine discovered a US-based, non-profit organization that is quietly operating at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone in the province of Zambales, whose members are determined to save the nation’s endangered species.
Aptly called by the acronym “WIN,” the advocates of the Wildlife in Need Foundation is led by an executive director by the name of Dr. Gary Van Slyke from New Zealand. The foundation was formed to rescue and rehabilitate terrestrial wildlife, marine mammals and other domestic animals and return them to the wild or care for them if they are considered “non-releasable.”
According to Dr. Van Slyke, WIN’s choice to build a Rescue Center in Subic was driven by the fact that the area is one of the few remaining intact rainforests in the country.
“Many of the animals that we rescue are from the illegal wildlife pet trade. The most commonly captured animals are monkeys or the long-tailed macaque. The mother is usually killed so that her baby can be sold as a pet,” related WIN’s top man.
“Other animals we rescue are electrocuted by their captors or run over by cars. We usually find them suffering from serious injuries, and bring them to the center for necessary treatment, after which we continue to feed them and nurture them until they are ready for release in the wild,” he added.
Dr. Van Slyke is a specialist veterinarian and environmental education consultant. Besides fighting the wildlife pet trade through the rescue and rehabilitation of terrestrial wildlife and marine mammals, he also cited the foundation’s work in furthering public education on environmental issues, as well as improving the care and welfare of domestic animals.
Besides rescuing wild animals in and around Subic, WIN also accepts animals from as far as Palawan, Bacolod, Cebu and Bataan, among other parts of the country, to do its work.
“While we try to rescue animals all over the Philippines, most of them are turned over by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR),” explained Reyna “Pacey” Prongco, who serves as the foundation’s overall manager and trainer.
Dr. Van Slyke happily reported to The Sunday Times Magazine that the majority of the wild animals which fall under WIN’s care are successfully rehabilitated and returned to their natural habitat. In fact, the veterinarian can still remember the first batch of monkeys the foundation released in 2010.
“That was an amazing and phenomenal experience,” the doctor enthused. “We placed them in a large cage, transported them and released them into the wild. If you were there, it was an experience you’re sure not to forget.”
The process of rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing wild animals fall under the foundation’s Animal Reintroduction Program, which began in April 2010. On record, WIN released four monkeys on this very first mission, with another five animals following in June 2010 of the same year. The third group counted 11 monkeys returned to their natural habitat in January 2011, with an additional nine released in April 2012.
The way WIN’s expert staff weans the animals from their care is to first feed them daily until they regain their health, after which they gradually decrease the number of feedings to every other day, every three days, and finally once a week in a span of two years.
However, according to Dr. Van Slyke, they do come across animals who have lost the ability to live on their own in a natural habitat.
“Moymoy, from our very first group for example, was beaten by the other monkeys so we were forced to bring him back to the center and include him in the non-releasable group,” he recalled. Such animals—including blind or old monkeys and South African pythons—are usually kept in the center where they are given a permanent home, and quality food and care.
“The reason why we cannot release the pythons is because Subic is not their original habitat,” Dr. Marc Monzon, a resident veterinarian who helps Van Slyke in the medical treatment of rescued animals, joined in.
WIN’s efforts in ensuring the welfare of domestic animals, meanwhile, is part of the foundation’s Companion Animal Program, where they provide foster care for homeless and abandoned dogs and cats. Once the furry creatures are nursed back to health, WIN goes on to find individuals or families who will treat them kindly either as foster or permanent pet owners.
Advocates of win
The foundation’s board members, according to Dr. Van Slyke, are comprised of influential individuals who have helped WIN carry out its advocacy for more than 12 years now. At Subic’s Rescue Center, meanwhile, he leads a team of eight hard-working staffers.
“Our staffers are all very skilled with animals so they can address almost all the needs of the animals at the center. Dr. Marc Monzon and I, meanwhile, handle the animals’ medical needs and again with the assistance of our dedicated staff members,” Dr. Van Slyke proudly stated.
Prongco oversees the entire operation, manned by senior zookeepers and trainers Bryan Millanes and Conrado Rintantan; zookeeper Domingo Restom; Aetas Michael Flores and Rolan Quitain who know Subic’s rainforest like the back of their hand; and another native by the name of Sam Atanaceo who is the designated maintenance man and veterinary assistant.
On to the sea
In 2002, WIN partnered with Subic’s Ocean Adventure to rescue stranded dolphins or cetaceans and provide them with critical care and rehabilitation. These incredible marine animals, including 26 species of whales and dolphins, are endangered because many of them are slaughtered for food when they are found on shore, often referred to as “stranding.”
“There are some animals like the sea eagle that can no longer be rehabilitated,” Dr. Van Slyke explained. “In such cases, Ocean Adventure pays the foundation a little money to take care of them, and with these animals, we are able to educate the public with regards to how they are threatened and what they need to live longer through the shows at the marine park.”
They also look out for five species of endangered marine turtles found in Subic and other parts of the Philippines, and work together with the experts at Ocean Adventure to rescue those that are caught by fishermen and taken to the center with injuries.
Besides Ocean Adventure, WIN has also linked up with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to develop the Philippine Marine Mammal Network (PMMSN); and the El Kabayo (EK) Stables in Subic Bay to provide assistance in improving over-all horse care and welfare.
Asked why they have chosen to devote their lives in saving endangered animals in the Philippines, Dr. Van Slyke humbly replied, “Who will rescue them if we will not do this?”
Having lived in the country for four years now, he has sadly realized that WIN cannot do the job alone, and that more groups and institutions like his foundation are needed to respond to the problem of animal cruelty and threatened species.
But for now, the small group that is making a big difference in preserving the country’s biodiversity will be happy with whatever help the public can add to those of their present benefactors.
“We are always in need of medical supplies, food supplies like monkey chow, dog and cat food, office supplies, and animal equipment like crates, cages, bedding, and toys,” he enumerated. “Every little bit counts.”
Contributions may be sent to: Wildlife in Need Building 8494, Naval Magazine, Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Philippines 2222, For more information, call (634-7) 252 8494 or fax (634-7) 252 5883.