Rescuing a Red-footed Booby

If you find a struggling wild animal, would you take care of it? Would you feed and raise it like you would a pet dog?

It probably is human nature that will make us say yes but before getting excited about having an exotic pet, think again. I know they are too cute and it is hard to resist, but here’s a little perspective –

Miniloc guides during their initial rescue response
Miniloc guides during their initial rescue response

In the morning of September 25, Kuya Jun, one of Miniloc Island Resort’s speedboat operators, noticed a bird struggling to swim in the waters between Natnat Beach and El Nido Town. Together with Security officer William, they rescued the bird at around 7 AM. The drenched seabird had a string tied to its left leg.

Upon preliminary inspection, no visible wounds or broken parts were observed. But as someone who has only recently been involved and trained about wildlife, I had to consult with my colleagues at the Environment Department the proper rescue procedures. We also reported the incident to the local Protected Area Office (PAO).

Still as a statue. Red-footed booby during the first attempt to release it at the Big Lagoon beach
Still as a statue. Red-footed booby during the first attempt to release it at the Big Lagoon beach

The bird turned out to be a juvenile of the brown morph of the Red-footed Booby (Sula sula), an uncommon visitor of Bacuit Bay. With webbed feet like a duck’s, this booby “forages widely from breeding grounds and returns to land at night. From 10 to 20 meters above water, it folds its wings and dives straight down head first into water to catch fish with its bill” (Kennedy, et al., 2000). It is a strong flier and will fly long distances in search of food. It also perches on ships.

Seabird showing signs of familiarity with people
Seabird showing signs of familiarity with people

But after a brief time with Booby, I observed a sad fact – it exhibited pet-like behavior. It seemed to have been accustomed to being around people, preferring to perch on the arms and shoulders of our marine sports guides. It seemed to have lost that wariness that wild animals exhibit. Even the simple act of feeding itself seemed difficult that fish had to be dangled in front of it to feed. It does not appear to have developed the critical skills necessary – like hunting for food or evading predators – to survive in the wild.

According to the National wildlife act (RA 9147), it is against the law to raise any type of wild animal in captivity.

Perched on its improvised nest
Perched on its improvised nest

That goes for monkeys, monitor lizards, and other wildlife in the illegal pet trade. Together with with the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) who runs the Wildlife Rescue Center in Puerto Princesa,we are working on a protocol that will hopefully help Booby avoid spending the rest of its life in the rescue center – by flying to freedom. It looks like a long shot, but who knows what surprises nature can pull?

Follow us here and we will keep you posted.

Meanwhile, consider this a plea – do not keep wildlife as pets. Do not bring them home. If you want to protect wildlife, protect the places where they live. And truly, there is nothing more special than seeing wildlife in the wild.

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Elaine is anywhere. She started her career as a Tourism Officer for the Provincial Government of Isabela where she handled community-based projects in the Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park. In 2013, she joined Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) and served as an Ecotourism Advisor in Samar. Her restless feet and heart took her to Africa, volunteering for an ecotourism project in the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe where she acquired a global perspective on tourism and development. Elaine has a degree in Tourism with a Graduate Diploma in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of the Philippines-Diliman. She is currently the Environmental Officer of Miniloc Island Resort advocating for sustainable tourism and dreams of a world full of responsible travelers. Indeed, Elaine is anywhere- doing what she loves and what is right.

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