bout a month ago, I was sent to cover a regional media event in Bohol, an island that's an hour-and-a-half away from Negros Oriental. The whole-day event was sponsored by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to highlight the gains achieved so far by the government in its anti-poverty program. 

Before we left the island, our guide - the ever-accommodating Aileen Lariba - made sure that our trip was not purely work. We stopped by the Loon Macaques Mangrove Conservatory, a habitat run by the Loon municipal government housing the once-wild monkeys in their town. 

Loon is a town about an hour's drive away from Bohol island's capital, Tagbilaran City. Rey, our info center manager in Bohol, claims he can do it in 25 minutes tops via his "pedal to the metal." (Let's not take his word for it, though, hehe). 

The conservatory is home to about 20 monkeys, and visitors have to walk through this boardwalk flanked by mangroves on both sides. A couple of caretakers, bringing long sticks with them, escort the visitors as some of the monkeys tend to get a little naughty and frisky. 

It was drizzling when we arrived there. I was dreading it a bit; I've heard scary stories of how monkeys would grab a person's hair or jump on one's back and monkey around (can't help the pun!). So I made it a point to really read the list of "what not to do" posted in the conservatory's entryway such as not making any unnecessary noise and not throwing food at them. Only the caretakers are allowed to feed them. 

Walking through the boardwalk on my bare feet (I removed my shoes earlier because of the slippery bamboo slots) is an experience in itself. The monkeys don't appear in the first few legs of the boardwalk. They started coming out when we went further, deep into the mangroves. 

One by one they hopped onto the railings and loped through the branches of the taller mangroves overhead. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time, being that close to nature and to the monkeys. I wanted to reach out and touch them, but fear got the better of me. At one point, I froze in place when some of the monkeys started to gather around me and looked up at me until the caretaker gently shooed them up into the railing. The caretakers are the guys wearing the pink shirts in the photos. 

During our visit, the monkeys pretty much behaved themselves. We took pictures. We called out to them gently as they peeled the bananas thrown by the caretakers. They pretty much ignored us, obviously having gotten used to humans and their cameras. 

I spotted about 2 baby monkeys. They are so cute that you'll want to take them home with you. 

These guys are huddling away the cold from the rains. 

At first, I frowned over the sticks carried by the caretakers. But they explained that the stick is a necessity not to hurt the monkeys but only to scare them away when they become too playful. Earlier, a foreigner tourist left with a slight injury on her foot. She was wearing an anklet and one of the bolder monkeys reached out and tried to snatch the shiny object away from her leg, leaving a scratch on her skin. Hurting her was not the intention, obviously, but the caretakers wanted to make sure that it won't happen again. They obviously care for the animals there. 

The story behind the conservatory is that these monkeys once ran wild around that particular area in Loon. They would raid the kitchens in the nearby houses in search of food. The residents started complaining and the local government started to think of a way to keep the monkeys fed and safe and away from people's houses. Thus, the conservatory was born. 

The entrance fee is very minimal and it goes to the upkeep of the habitat. The experience is so much more valuable, though. 

To know more about the conservatory and how to get there, visit the Loon Municipality's website. 


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