It was a seven-kilometer walk under the searing sun for 9-year-old Yanyan Paloma and his five friends from their house in Barangay Malapoc Norte to reach Maasin City’s latest attraction—its first zoo.
They didn’t mind the heat, though, as they were all excited to see the animals. They were not disappointed.
Watching the crocodiles being fed slabs of meat, Paloma and his buddies screamed in delight. “I’m happy. I only see these animals on TV,” Paloma said.
The crocodiles were among the animals found at Maasin City Nature and Wildlife Conservation Park, which opened on April 26 to boost the city’s tourism promotion as the “playground” of Eastern Visayas.
The zoo houses endemic and endangered wildlife, like the Philippine eagle and the Philippine tarsier, an array of birds, reptiles and mammals, such as mini-horses, monkeys, pheasants, cockatoos, parrots, pigeons and many others.
The facility is expected to be fully operational today and until that time, management was not seeing any need to collect any entrance fee, possibly P100 for students and P200 for adults.
Situated on a 25-hectare lot inside the 320-ha Maasin City Forest Park in Sitio Danao, Barangay Malapoc Norte, the zoo is 13 km away from the city proper and has an elevation of 250-360 meters above sea level.
Maasin Zoo is a joint project of the provincial government of Southern Leyte, the Maasin City government and the private sector led by Southern Leyte Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SLCCI).
The private sector provided the animals for the zoo, while the city government constructed the cages and would be in charge of taking care of and feeding the animals.
The provincial government, built the roads and would shoulder water and electricity expenses.
According to Maasin Mayor Maloney Samaco, the zoo is one of its kind in the region and the Visayas.
“We have a zoo at Luboc [town] in Bohol but it’s not … as big as this. We also have a zoo in Cebu City (in Beverly Hills) but not as complicated as what we have constructed here,” he said.
He added that more animals would be brought in so that people would not get tired of coming back.
“The SLCCI and the private sector are in a hurry to open [the zoo] this summer, so we have it located in this place,” Samaco said.
“This is just a temporary site. We will have a permanent site situated near the entrance, and that will cover about 25 ha.”
The present site is within Camp Danao, where the Boy Scouts of the Philippines (BSP) conducted its 7th National Rover Moot in 2010.
It was also the campsite of One Visayas Regional Boy Scouts’ Jamboree and the training ground of adult scout leaders, said Samaco, who is presently the BSP regional chair for Central and Eastern Visayas.
Robert Castañares, president of SLCCI, said the primary target for the zoo was the one million elementary and high school students in Eastern Visayas. Usually, he said, the students are accompanied by their parents to the zoo.
Castañares said an area for riding horses and camels, as well as a boating area in a man-made lake, would be designated.
Speaking during the opening day of the two-day Eastern Visayas Business Conference in Macrohon town on April 25, Castañares said Maasin Zoo was part of the grand tourism plan to make Southern Leyte “the playground of Eastern Visayas.”
“We will promote Southern Leyte as the playground of Eastern Visayas … where the attractions are unique, the roads are clean and the customer services are excellent,” he said.
He said that when all the places to go to in Southern Leyte were reviewed, the natural destinations were found to be unattractive. “So we decided to build” man-made facilities.
According to Castañares, SLCCI came up with five tourism hubs to be developed. He identified these hubs as the Agas-Agas Zipline Adventure in Sogod town, Maasin Zoo in Maasin City, Silago Canopy Walk in Silago town, Napantao Dive Resort in San Francisco town and Limasawa Historical Landmark in the island-town of Limasawa.
The Agas-Agas zipline, which traverses the Agas-Agas Bridge, the country’s tallest bridge with a height of 75 m, has drawn many enthusiasts since the launching of the nearly 1-kilometer-long zipline in April last year.
Castañares said a cable car would be put up in the zipline area.
He said they would develop next the canopy walk in Silago, where an old-growth forest still exists. Steel bridges are to be built to connect some trees.
“After the [Maasin] zoo, we will do that. There’s a beautiful waterfalls at the end of a 45-minute walk in the canopy,” he said.
The development of Napantao Dive Resort, one of the best dive sites in the country, would be continued, along with the historic Limasawa island, where they intend to erect a 100-m cross.