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A Baler Safari

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By Dr. Jaime C. Laya

Governor-General Harrison’s wild carabao hunting party and the welcome singers at the town plaza in Baler, Tayabas (now Quezon), March 1916.

Governor-General Harrison’s wild carabao hunting party and the welcome singers at the town plaza in Baler, Tayabas (now Quezon), March 1916.

Animal rights notwithstanding, big game hunting has always been popular among the rich and famous. African targets are the “Big Five,” namely lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. In North America, hunters aim for bear, wolf, caribou, moose, bison, and elk.

Here, we’re happy with deer and baboy-damo although occasionally media reports a giant crocodile netted and an endangered eagle shot. No news is presumably good news for Mindoro’s tamaraw.

Once, hunters trekked to the Caraballo de Baler in search of the Pinoy relative of Africa’s Cape buffalo (considered the Big Five’s nastiest). Our wild carabaos are supposedly descendants of farm animals that strayed and generations later, reverted to their ancestral wildness. Both African and wild Pinoy cousins look docile but when provoked, charge full speed with horns aimed.

There must be none left, but a century ago, there was game in Ilongot territory, in isolated valleys and mountain foothills. Hunting was a big production, requiring transportation, trails blazed through virgin forest and cogon land, camps, support staff, and dogs.  Even so, wild carabao hunting was limited to six months a year (July 1 to Sept. 30 and Dec. 15 to March 15).

On March 15, 1916, Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison set off from Malacañang leading an eight-man hunting party to Baler, Tayabas (now Quezon). They traveled by road to Atimonan where a coast guard cutter waited. The boat docked in Baler at 7 a.m. the following morning and the group was met by a band and townspeople, and led to the town plaza to a formal welcome with speeches, a specially composed lua and a flower petal shower. The hunters and 200 support staff—cooks, beaters, dog handlers, gun, and baggage bearers, etc.—then proceeded on ponies through countryside, jungle, and grassland.

Two hours later, all 208 arrived at a temporary camp built for their five-day stay—a hut for the governor-general, a dormitory for the seven others, a kitchen, a dining pavilion, and more huts for alalay.

The hunt began soon after sunrise the next morning. Hunting ground was rolling cogonal with scattered clusters of brush, trees, and bamboo groves between river and mountain range, an area of some 250+ hectares. Beaters and dogs went ahead, followed by the rifle-bearing hunters. The eight were assigned their stations—eight-foot high bamboo platforms easily disassembled and assembled at strategic locations. The idea was for barking dogs and gun-shooting beaters to drive beasts (carabao, deer, and/or pig) towards hunters, who would then shoot to kill.

Of course matters were never so simple. Prey would not race towards the desired location; shots would miss; wounded animals would scuttle hundreds of meters more and charge an approaching hunter. Just the same, 12 carabaos were bagged during the expedition.

Back in Baler on day five, the group attended a dinner-dance hosted by the Juez de Paz where three old ladies offered a gift of eggs as mark of esteem and hospitality. The hunters sailed back to Atimonan after midnight, bearing trophies of wild carabao heads and horns.

Notes:  (a) This article is based on “Hunting Wild Carabaos in the Philippines” by Charles H. Magee, The Philippine Review (January 1917); (b) Apart from Governor-General Harrison, the only identified members of the hunting party are Messrs. Felipe Buencamino, Jr., Serafín Lansañgan, and Charles H. Magee, and Captain Commiskey, Aide-de-Camp to the Governor; (c) A lua is a poem set to music to honor a person or to mark an event; and (d) The head and horns of the largest beast killed was prepared for shipment to the New York Museum of Natural History.

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