Monday, July 18, 2011

Saving Soft-Shell Turtles in Quezon

My childhood friend Zeus Bascon invited me to go to a road trip with his family over the weekend. It was a long and fun drive to Quezon from Sta. Rosa Laguna. The plan was to have a picnic there.

I was already at their place at 7am which isn’t bad since I live 5 minutes away from their house if I were driving a car. His mom said we start by 7am and I hate being late at any event.

When I came over last Friday I took the bike with me instead of the car, my 10 year old cousin gave me a bike since he bought a new one. Now I have a small bicycle altered to accommodate my size.
The handle bar and seat were heightened so I could pedal and maneuver the bike comfortably and it was also painted chrome.
I stuffed the bike in my trunk in case the terrain in Quezon is good enough for biking. Unfortunately I was unable to use it since the place was too rugged and mountainous. There was absolutely no way of enjoying my mini bike in the area, such a shame.

It wasn’t easy to drive to the place especially if you’re carrying 5 other people in my really old car, or my mom’s car, the back seat was packed with 4 people making it very hard to go uphill and I think after the trip I would have to get Ula, the car, checked. I should have told them not to overload the car, I thought there would only be two people at the back.

Since the stereo was busted we resorted to improvising, so the song we all sang to was…


I cooked spaghetti with mushroom and tofu, I already know that I can’t eat whatever they’re having since the diet of a vegetarian is typically unheard of in Filipino families. But thankfully they’re starting to realize that I don’t eat meat anymore. Someone cooked fried eggplants, I was grateful.

Tiaong was a mountainous place in Quezon and people there speak in a rather funny accent that is almost similar to the people of Batangas.
There where overwhelming amount of vegetation and trees. There were corn shrubs, a few of them I accidentally run over since there was absolutely no road to follow. I also happen to rear a coconut tree but since the terrain was absolutely incorrigible it was a miracle I was able to park somewhere.

There was also a river at the northern end of the place so all of us have decided to take a look.

Floating plastics, foil wrappers can be found on the side of the creek and on its surface. I have never seen a really clean river in the Philippines so I wasn’t surprised although there were fishes and soft-shell turtles living in the river.

Unfortunately they are in grave danger since the people around the area heartlessly shoot them. We saw a man fishing with a spike like equipment and he didn’t even let a small fish, about 4 inches long, go. He shot the poor creature, as though it would really fill him up when he eats it. I think a boiled sweet potato would have filled his stomach more and he wouldn’t have to bother swimming around, not to mention having to endure the searing sun.

While playing my double-reed harmonica in an upbeat tune which Zeus said sounded like Huckleberry fin-ish but I aptly named the tune “An Ode to Maria Makiling” (A fairy, nymph or deity in Laguna – particularly in Los Baǹos) we marched from a hill to the river banks and started to dip our feet in the shallow part of the river, feeling the strong cool stream.
The sun was too harsh so I retreated under a shade of tree and sat on a boulder, playing continuously with the harmonica just at the side of the river bank.

It wasn’t long when we heard a sort of explosion not too far from the river.
“That’s a gunshot” said Zeus’ sister and later on, her husband came in saying someone was shooting a turtle on the other side of the river. Dismayed by such news I quickly stood up and placed my harmonica at the back pocket of my denim shorts.

I saw Zeus dragging a log near the side of river, saying he could do something with the beautiful log. It seems that he wants to take it home to Laguna and take it to the car. I told him he’s not carrying that 60 kilo log to my car and he should just leave it here and come back for it next time.
“It’ll be gone by then” he reasoned.
“Tie it to a tree” I said.
He asked his brother-in-law to help him carry the log but it proved to be heavy. “There’s someone shooting down turtles at the other side of the river, we need to stop him. Drop the log, it’s already dead but the turtle is alive and we need to save it!” I told him.
“Fine.” He said, dropping the log and the two men followed me uphill to the other side where the shots originated.

Upon reaching the other side of the river, we had to go downhill but it was too steep. I was waiting for Zeus to dash down but it took him a while to figure out how he could go down the bottom unscathed. I followed quickly after, dashing below and not a bit troubled by what would happen.

If I had to shield the turtle with my body – in a heartbeat I would, although my heart does have the tendency to skip beats.

The new ground was near a cliff where there were tall weeds and shrubbery, a little bit of clumsiness and we'll definitely fall on the river. Not knowing what you’re stepping on will increase the possibility of plummeting down the river below.

Another shot came and we were sure it was pretty close.

I looked around and saw the guy, whom Zeus’ father was talking to earlier.
I thought perhaps we can ask him where the guys shooting the turtle down can be found.

As we drew closer to his position, at the edge of the cliff – I saw him raise his arms holding a .45 caliber and fired a few more shots.
“I got it! It’s a big one!” the idiot said.

It was too late, I saw the turtle a bit smaller than a car tire sank at the bottom of the river about less than a 100 meters in distance. We were at the edge of the cliff and below would be the river, about 8 feet below.
“There! Saw that huge green shell sinking?” he said.
“Where?! Where?!” Zeus said

I was offended gravely. “Why did you kill the turtle?” I asked him.
“We eat them.” He said.
“Well, aren’t you going to get your kill?” I asked again.
“That part of the river is very deep. Deeper than the bamboos you see” he said, “I’ll just let it go and let it surface on some shore” he gave a smirk as though he felt he was so awesome.
It seems he has no plans of fetching his kill, he’s not planning to eat the turtle. He just shot it for target practice and he’s old enough to know that what he’s doing is wrong. He’s not retarded not to know, he has no excuse – he’s just an ignoramus who thinks we will be impressed by what he was doing.
Is he trying to tell us in a way that he has a gun?

“Poor creature” Zeus and I said.
We told the ignoramus that these turtles looked like pawikans or sea green turtles and they are endangered species but he said they are soft shell turtles (much to Zeus’ disappointed he won’t be able to get any turtle shells)

The ignoramus guy said “They are endangered in your place, but here it isn’t.”
Oh and that makes it right to shoot them? I thought, only a buffoon would reason that.
“At this rate they will be endangered” I said.

“Look there’s another one” the brother-in-law said, we all looked to the direction and saw a small young turtle about 8 inches in diameter. The soft-shell turtle reared its head on the surface of water to take a few breaths. We can clearly see its body on the water, wiggling its stubby fat legs to float.
The ignoramus guy once again aimed at the turtle and commenced on pulling the trigger.

“No!! Stop!” I was about to grab the gun from him but I halted when he looked at me very surprised and lowered his gun.
“If you’re going to eat them, I’ll give you money so you can buy food at the market. Just don’t kill them.” I said.
Imagine a guy around my age going to shoot an innocent poor creature that emerged from the bottom of the river simply to take amounts of oxygen in order to continue its harmless life but would only be shot down.
“Huh? What?” he said. He was surprised at what I said.
“How do they taste like?” Zeus asked.
“They taste like beef” he said.
Liar, I haven't tasted turtles but I don't think they taste like beef. Soft-shell turtles as what my office-mate told me were the turtles used in soup.
I didn’t have any homicidal thoughts against the man at that time but I do want him to stop, but what chance do I have when he has a gun and I only have a double-reed harmonica?

There was silence and the turtle after taking sufficient amounts of breath retreated back to the bottom of the river. The creature is safe for now, I thought to myself.

We left the guy at the cliff and I told him to not kill them anymore. He didn’t say anything and we left.
Zeus told me about cultural boundaries, that I can’t just tell people to stop what they’re doing if it has become part of their culture. Uh-huh shooting down turtles with a .45 caliber is very cultural, I wonder if they have a “Let’s shoot down soft-shell turtles” festival.

Then again, if it were, I don’t care if I’m crossing cultural boundaries if I could save a turtle’s life.
It is immoral no matter how I look at it.
Zeus said we need to educate these people and I agree, but I wasn’t in the mood to lecture the buffoon with the gun and tell him about global warming, endangered species and that shooting any living creature down is not right – when in fact he ought to know these things. Is that gun even registered?

“He’s not going to eat the turtle, he’s just practicing his aim” said Zeus’ brother in law.
True, how is he going to fetch his kill when it sank more than 10 feet below the surface of water? Would he really take the time to wait for it on the shore when that is so uncertain? How many more turtles has he killed and how many more will die?
No other living creature in this world has the capability to be such monsters than humans, all other animals will only harm a human when provoked or threatened. They would never ever harm anything out of pleasure. 

Hunting in several regions on earth would be acceptable. The English before would shoot down foxes since these animals harm their stocks and farms. They would collect the hunted fox and make use of its hide. But why shoot down a turtle when it’s harmless, it already has a slowed motion, why else shoot it?

A bear would never attack or scratch a human just so he could sharpen his claws.

After a while we went back home. I’m sure that guy has done it a lot of times and I’m not going to stand here thinking about those poor creatures getting shot for mere target-practice.

I will try to contact PAWS or DENR if I had to. Or even PETA, although I don’t really like PETA but the circumstance is asking for it. PETA is too extreme, too intense for my taste.
I don’t want to go marching down holding planks or sign-boards. I may need to consult my friends for help on this one.

There were people who killed animals and made fun of animals that spread all over the news like the kid who hanged a puppy by the ear and the one in UP who stepped on a kitty - those aren't even close to what I've witnessed. I literally saw an adult man gun down an innocent creature who has no chance of fighting back.

Anyway here’s a video for PETA from Bullshit (I love this show)

I have a lot of reasons why I’m vegetarian and when I was in college, torturing animals was the last reason why I was following this diet to heart but it doesn't exactly mean I don't care about animals at all - I just have better reasons in being a vegetarian than just mere compassion towards animals.
Please don't tell me to eat meat, I will eat meat if I want to - thank you.

Do watch the PETA Bullshit show and know more a bit about PETA who wants to shut down Manila Zoo.

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