AMLAN, Negros Oriental — Guegen Riso couldn't help but fight back tears as he recalled the plight of Acron, one of the tigers at the Dreamland Nature and Adventure Park (DNAP), who died on March 9 following complications brought by supposed malnutrition.
Pictures taken by some concerned citizens showed a skinny Acron seemingly gasping for breath as he lay inside his cage weeks before his death.
Riso told ABS-CBN News that Acron had been healthy for most of his life, but only fell ill after his dietary needs could not be met due to lack of funding and support.
"Si Acron, hindi naman iyon talagang sakitin eh. Namatay siya kasi hindi nga makakain. Wala rin namang nagbibigay dito ng pagkain," said Riso, who takes care of the zoo's animals together with his wife Anabella.
(Acron used to be really healthy. He died because he could not be fed properly. No one is even giving him food.)
Acron, together with his fellow tigers Byron and Basyang, each need six kilograms of meat daily, Riso added.
"Masakit talaga iyong pagkamatay ni Acron. Iyong misis ko nga, napaiyak. Ako rin, di ko rin maiwasang umiyak. Eh ano namang magagawa ko? Patay na eh," he said in Cebuano.
(Acron's death really hurt. Even my wife cried when he died. I did, too. But what can I do? He's already dead.)
Acron, Byron, and Basyang are just 3 of the dozens of animals housed in DNAP in Amlan town, about 26 kilometers north of Dumaguete City, the capital of Negros Oriental.
The park houses several species of birds, monkeys, ostriches, snakes, and even a camel named Juliet.
When it opened in 2014, DNAP was one of the most popular destinations among local and foreign tourists in Negros Oriental. But 7 months ago, the park was temporarily closed for "renovation purposes," Riso said.
Since then, caretakers have been struggling to provide adequate food and medicines for the animals. So far, the only food supply the zoo has is from donations. Even Riso and his wife only rely on donations for their salaries, with a considerable chunk of the money being spent to buy food for the animals.
Last February, concerned citizen Corinne Alexa Saligue first posted about the plight of DNAP, which locals call the "Amlan Zoo." Together with her husband Iric Mark, her friends, and Miss Negros Oriental 2022 Angel Saga, they started a donation campaign to feed the animals there. The drive is ongoing as of writing.
Cash and food donations from concerned citizens heartbroken over Acron's story came in droves. A local veterinarian also volunteered to check on the sick tiger's health.
Just 4 days before he was murdered, former Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo met with DNAP President Wilfredo Chiu and former Amlan mayor Bentham dela Cruz to talk about the zoo's plight.
Following Degamo's orders, personnel from the Provincial Veterinary Office came and tried to save Acron. But Riso said that by then, Acron was already beyond saving. He even handfed the sick tiger because of its apparent loss of appetite.
"Sabi nga nila, kung mas napaaga iyong pagresponde kay Acron, buhay pa sana siya ngayon," he said.
(They told me that had they responded sooner, Acron would have still been alive.)
"Kung sino man iyong may awa sa mga hayop, humihingi na lang po kami ng tulong," Riso told ABS-CBN News.
(Whoever has a heart for these animals, please, we are asking for your help.)
Editor's Note: Those who wish to give donations for the animals at Amlan Zoo may reach out to Corinne Alexa Utzurrum Saligue on Facebook.