World first for NFEFI

In another world first, the Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation (NFEFI) has successfully bred two Visayan leopard cat kittens at its Biodiversity Conservation Center (BCC) in Bacolod City.

An adult Visayan leopard cat

An adult Visayan leopard cat

This is the first time this subspecies has been bred in captivity anywhere in the world .

The breeding pair were rescued early last year from La Carlota City – the female from the farm of former NFEFI president Gerry Ledesma and the male from a nearby farm. Both parents are around 20 months old. The kittens were born earlier this month.

“This is an amazing feat,” said Gerry Ledesma. “Breeding leopard cats is extremely difficult as these beautiful animals are sadly prone to many diseases, especially those spread by stray cats. I congratulate everyone involved at NFEFI, especially curator Dr. Joanne Justo and her team.”

This is the latest in a series of world first clocked-up by NFEFI in the conservation-breeding of endangered species. Other successful firsts include the Visayan tarictic hornbill in 1999, the Negros sailfin lizard in 2003 and the Philippine eagle-owl in 2005.

NFEFI has also successfully bred Visayan spotted deer, Visayan warty pigs and the Visayan bleeding-heart pigeons. All are critically endangered and endemic the West Visayas Faunal Region.

“All of these species are fully protected by law and it’s illegal to kill, capture, transport, buy, sell or maintain them in captivity whether as pets or animal collections except under special permits from the DENR,” said NFEFI president Teddy Boy Infante.

“Unfortunately, many of these animals are still hunted, whether for human consumption or for the exotic animal trade”.

The Visayan leopard cat - fully protected by law

The Visayan leopard cat – fully protected by law

The ongoing project ‘Partnerhips for Biodiversity Conservation: Mainstreaming to Local Agricultural Landscape (Biodiversity Partnerships Project)’ of the NFEFI, Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. (PBCFI), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Region VI, the Provincial Government of Negros Occidental, the different local governments units and other stakeholders is intended to increase the protection efforts in the biologically critical sites in the province, primarily the North Negros Natural Park and also the critical limestone forest fragments in south-western Negros.

Both areas are crucial to the survival not only of Visayan leopard cats but also to huge array of critically threatened species found only in West Visayan Faunal Region.

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Southampton – city of ships

It’s a truism that one tends to take one’s home town for granted. I trained as a tour guide here in Negros and often find that, as a foreigner, I know more about Bacolod City than many who were born here.

Alas, I tend not to know as much I would like to about my home town of Southampton in England.

Southampton's historic 'Bargate' constructed more than a thousand years ago

Southampton’s historic ‘Bargate’ constructed more than a thousand years ago

But I intend to rectify this. My family and I leave for England this week and we have two glorious – if chilly – weeks to explore Southampton in search of a bit of history.

Best of all, we’ll have the freedom of a car – that is very important. As usual, we’ll be taking a Hertz car from London’s Heathrow Airport. A Hertz self-drive holiday will give us the freedom to come and go as we like so we can control our own schedules.

And with the unreliability of public transport in the UK these days – not to mention the expense – having one’s own car is really the only way to go when touring.

And to make the trip even better, we’ll have the Hertz NeverLost GPS Navigation System. Just enter the address and the machine will tell you how to get to your destination. Great. No more maps or having to ask people for directions.

The famous Tudor House dating back to the 15th century – a popular tourist site in Southampton

My home town of Southampton on the south coast of England was founded by the Romans 70 years after the death of Christ. It was a small settlement which the Romans called Clausentum. We Brits  waved goodbye to the Romans in 407AD.

As the years rolled on, this small town grew and because of its excellent natural harbor it started to become an important port.

Unfortunately, it suffered severely when Vikings from Scandinavia raided and sacked the town several times in the 9th and 10th centuries. After that the town went into decline, but it was soon flourishing  after the Norman conquest of 1066 when many Frenchmen made it their home. The town had its first mayor in 1217.

Southampton had its ups and downs over the centuries, but it became a major port and later a key manufacturing center.

Interestingly, the Mayflower, the ship that took the Pilgrims from England to America in 1620, originally set sail from Southampton. As fate would have it, bad weather forced her to stop at Plymouth.

The Mayflower leaving Southampton in 1620

The Mayflower leaving Southampton in 1620

By the early 19th century Southampton was booming. From the 1880s North Atlantic trade increased and in 1907 White Star transatlantic liners moved to Southampton. New docks for ships were built in the years 1890-1911.  A year later, RMS Titanic left Southampton on her fateful voyage.

Two years later World War 1 started and by the time hostilities ceased in 1918, some eight million men passed through Southampton on their way to the front.

A replica of the famous Mayflower

A replica of the famous Mayflower

In the 1930’s passenger traffic continued to flourish. The town remained the foremost passenger port in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. It became known as the ‘Gateway to the World’ for passenger liners. In 1962 over half a million passengers passed through the port as did some five per cent of all the cargoes imported into Britain.

During World War 11 Southampton suffered badly from large-scale air raids during World War II. As a large port on the south coast, it was an important strategic target for the German Luftwaffe. There were fifty seven attacks in all including a direct hit on the factory making the famous Spitfire fighter plane.

Southampton became a city in 1964. Today, it remains a major port, but the passenger ships have all but gone to be replaced by many great cruise ships.

And tourism is becoming an increasingly significant industry in Southampton. The city has much to offer including the longest surviving run of medieval walls in England and many historic buildings.  Of special interest is the Maritime Museum which features a permanent Titanic exhibition.

Eulogy for Ricardo Oppen ‘Nonong’ Montinola

From Robert Harland, Redemptorist Chapel. Bacolod City

September 17, 2012

It’s a great honour for me to have this opportunity to say a few words tonight about my very good friend Nonong Montinola.

While this is a time of great sadness for us all, I am joyful that I had the pleasure and privilege of knowing Nonong for as long as I did.

We first met in the early 1990s when I was with Asia Pacific division of The Coca-Cola Company in Hong Kong. I started popping over to Bacolod to play golf during the Holy Week and Christmas holidays.

Nely and Nonong Montinola, Robert Harland, Stessie hecita

Neoly and Nonong Montinola, Robert Harland, Stessie Hecita

It was Bob Cuenca who introduced us and before long I was joining Nonong and Felix Yusay on the golf course.

As a golfer, Nonong could sometimes be quite emotional.

I remember once after he unsuccessfully tried 15 times to get his ball out of a bunker, he threw his club in the air, dropped to his knees and started taking to the ball. He said: “I don’t think you want to leave this place do you? Ok, you can stay then!”

He then proceeded to bury the ball in the sand. He then picked up his club and moved onto the next hole. That was Nonong.

At that time, I did not have a family here in Negros, but I never had a lonely Christmas. Nonong always insisted I celebrate Christmas with him and his family. He was the perfect host. Always attentive and constantly asking if my beer was cold enough. I always warm to a host who offers you a cold beer as soon as you come through the front door. Yes, that was Nonong.

When I retired to Bacolod in 2001, I spent more time with Nonong and thoroughly enjoyed the family get-togethers. Not only did I enjoy the warmth of Nonong, his family and friends, but I also enjoyed his food. I frequently said to him “You keep the best table in Bacolod”. He would always modesty insist that wasn’t the case. But it was. He was a real foodie.

Nonong was also a man of passion, especially when it came to collecting things and he collected many things.

At one time he became interested in Spode China from England. Because of my frequent trips to the UK I was able to help him with his collection.

He later moved onto what I can only call his African period. Suddenly fierce-looking native spears, bows and arrows, African masks and stuffed animal heads began arriving at the house.

At one stage, Neoly said to me “you know Robert; this house is beginning to look like a museum”. As she said those words I looked up and saw the head of a none-to-pleased African wildebeest staring down at me. I knew what she meant.

But that was Nonong. Always enthusiastic. Always passionate. Always raring to go.

And when Stessie gave birth to our son Robert Jr. in 2008 I was thrilled that Nonong and Neoly and their children agreed to be his Godparents. We brought Robert Jr here yesterday. He’s too young to understand, but when he gets older I will tell him all about his illustrious Godfather, Nonong.

When people pass away, one often hears comments like “he’ll be greatly missed; he was one of a kind”. Many times, however, such comments are simply platitudes. But not in Nonong’s case. He really was one of a kind – a larger than life character – and he will be sorely missed by everyone whose life he touched.

In short, Nonong was a decent, caring and loving man. As we would say in England – he was a real gent.

Farewell Nonong. It’s been a pleasure. I salute you. Until we meet again

Garden Club celebrates 50 years

Launches special school project

As part of its 50th anniversary celebrations, the Negros Occidental Garden Club, under the presidency of Fe Remitio, has launched a special program designed to provide meals for undernourished children in Bacolod schools.

The Negros Occidental Garden Club presented a donation to the Rizal Elementary School for the Full Meal program. (l-r) Club members Mepa Conde, Daphne Javelosa, Ilde Guerrero. Rizal Elementary's  Raquel Barredo and May Bautista; club members Lourdes Mercado, Jean Visitacion, Gigi Flores
The Negros Occidental Garden Club presented a donation to the Rizal Elementary School for the Full Meal program. (l-r) Club members Mepa Conde, Daphne Javelosa, Ilde Guerrero. Rizal Elementary’s Raquel Barredo and May Bautista; club members Lourdes Mercado, Jean Visitacion, Gigi Flores”

Called ‘Full Meal’, the program kicked-off on Monday at the Rizal Elementary School with an initial batch of 40 children classified by the Department of Education as ‘severely wasted’.

Launches special school project  As part of its 50th anniversary celebrations, the Negros Occidental Garden Club, under the presidency of Fe Remitio, has launched a special program designed to provide meals for undernourished children in Bacolod schools.  Called ‘Full Meal’, the program kicked-off on Monday at the Rizal Elementary School with an initial batch of 40 children classified by the Department of Education as ‘severely wasted’.  Said Lourdes Mercado, chair of the club's working committee: "The project aims to supply at least one full meal a day for those children most in need. This will mean they can continue to attend school as they look forward to a nourishing meal each day. We all want our children to be healthy and cheerful."  For its part, the school is required to grow and maintain a sustainable vegetable garden, handle the cooking of the meals, identify those children most in need and follow-up the physical growth of each child.  "This is a very beneficial project," said May Bautista, Principal 4 at Rizal Elementary. "Some families are too poor to feed their chidden properly and when there's hunger it makes it very difficult for a child to focus on lessons. So the Full Meal program will be a great help."  The project will run until December at which time the club and school will determine the next stage.  As part of Full Meal, the club will also host a Christmas party at the school for the children, teachers and volunteer helpers.  Founded in 1962, the Negros Occidental Garden Club is one of the oldest and most active clubs of its kind in the Philippines. It aims to promote, encourage, foster and cultivate interest in garden floriculture and community beautification as well as support local charitable projects.
First day of the Full Meal program at Rizal Elementary School

Said Lourdes Mercado, chair of the club’s working committee: “The project aims to supply at least one full meal a day for those children most in need. This will mean they can continue to attend school as they look forward to a nourishing meal each day. We all want our children to be healthy and cheerful.”

For its part, the school is required to grow and maintain a sustainable vegetable garden, handle the cooking of the meals, identify those children most in need and follow-up the physical growth of each child.

Hm, tastes pretty good. A pupil tucks into a Full Meal
Hm, tastes pretty good. A pupil tucks into a Full Meal

“This is a very beneficial project,” said May Bautista, Principal 4 at Rizal Elementary. “Some families are too poor to feed their chidden properly and when there’s hunger it makes it very difficult for a child to focus on lessons. So the Full Meal program will be a great help.

The project will run until December at which time the club and school will determine the next stage.

As part of Full Meal, the club will also host a Christmas party at the school for the children, teachers and volunteer helpers.

Two pupils tending an Okra plant in the school's vegetable garden

Two pupils tending an Okra plant in the school’s vegetable garden

Founded in 1962, the Negros Occidental Garden Club is one of the oldest and most active clubs of its kind in the Philippines. It aims to promote, encourage, foster and cultivate interest in garden floriculture and community beautification as well as support local charitable projects.

Protecting plant and animal resources

Representatives from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Manila are in Bacolod City this week to attend a forum on Friday at the Provincial Capitol Building for all stakeholders involved in the Northern Negros Natural Park Biodiversity Partnership Project.

On a visit to the NFEFI enclosure: (front row l-r) Lisa Paguntalan, PBCF; DENR's Ann Malano and Rod Cava; UNDP's Jay Siasoco, Joey Regunay, Imee Manal and Grace Tena; Robert Harland, NFEFI; Lucille Titular (PBCF);  (back row l-r) Errol Gatumbato, PBCF; Ben-Hur Vilorio, UNDP; NFEFI's Lodel Maganua; Marissa Lizares and Teddy Boy Infante.

On a visit to the NFEFI enclosure: (front row l-r) Lisa Paguntalan, PBCF; DENR’s Ann Malano and Rod Cava; UNDP’s Jay Siasoco, Joey Regunay, Imee Manal and Grace Tena; Robert Harland, NFEFI; Lucille Titular (PBCF); (back row l-r) Errol Gatumbato, PBCF; Ben-Hur Vilorio, UNDP; NFEFI’s Lodel Maganua; Marissa Lizares and Teddy Boy Infante.

This project aims to help local governments and communities protect and conserve plant and animal resources.

The forum, hosted by the Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation (NFEFI) and the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation (PBCFI) will be attended by some 13 local government units, eight development NGOs and various government agencies.

Quiet hero of the Titanic disaster

In  a few weeks, my family and I will once again he heading off for a holiday in the English countryside.

Titanic survivors being picked by Carpathia

Titanic survivors being picked by Carpathia

We’ll pick up our Hertz Car at London’s Heathrow Airport and drive south to my home town of Southampton on the south coast. We always use Hertz as they have over the years proven to be the most reliable of all the car rental companies.

In Southampton it’s difficult to escape the Titanic for it was from there in 1912 that the world’s most luxurious liner left on her ill-fated maiden voyage across the Atlantic. She struck an ice berg and went down on 15 April 1912, leaving more than 1,500 people dead. The ship had been vaunted as “unsinkable.”

Most of the crew who perished came from Southampton.

The story of the doomed voyage is well known, but less known is the role of a Southampton master mariner whose expertise saved more than 700 passengers and crew from almost certain death.

Sir Arthur Rostron was in command of the Cunard Line ship, RMS Carpathia. She was very much a down-to-earth workhorse ship carrying emigrants westbound and American tourists or returning émigrés eastbound.

Sir Arthur Rostron - quiet hero of he Titanic disaster

Sir Arthur Rostron – quiet hero of he Titanic disaster

On April 11, 1912, Carpathia left New York bound for Europe. At about the same time, RMS Titanic was heading west on her maiden voyage to New York.

Titanic survivors coming aboard Carpathia

Titanic survivors coming aboard Carpathia

The 42-year-old Rostron had been an officer with Cunard since 1895. He lived near Chalk Hill Southampton, not far from where my 91 year-old mother lives today.

He had been master of Carpathia for just three months, and with him on board were 700 passengers.

At 12.15am on April 15, Carpathia’s wireless operator Harold Cottam was about to turn in for the night when he received the first SOS from Titanic. Cottam immediately ran to Rostron’s cabin to alert him.

Rostron quickly ordered the ship to change course and race towards the Titanic’s reported position, posting extra lookouts to help spot and maneuver around the ice he knew to be in the area. About 58 nautical miles (93 km) separated his ship from Titanic’s position.

Rostron and his crew skillfully obtained the maximum speed possible from the engines of Carpathia, coaxing her up to 17.5 knots – three and a half faster than her rated speed. Even so, Carpathia, travelling through dangerous ice floes, took about 3½ hours to reach the Titanic.

During this time Rostron turned off heating to ensure maximum steam for the ship’s engines and had the ship prepared for the survivors; including getting blankets, food and drinks ready, and ordering his medical crew to stand by to receive the possibly injured survivors.

At 4am, on reaching Titanic’s position, Carpathia’s engines were stopped as the crew, together with many passengers now on deck having been alerted both by the hustle of preparations and the increasing cold in their quarters, strained to see some sign of the ship.

Suddenly, they saw a green flare fired by Titanic lifeboat number two, and the first survivors came aboard at 4.10am; by 8.30am the final person to be rescued stepped aboard Carpathia.

Now carrying double her original complement of passengers, Carpathia steamed slowly among wreckage and icebergs seeking more survivors, but none were found.

The plucky little Carpathia would end up rescuing 710 survivors out of the 2,228 passengers.

In 1926 Rostron was decorated with the highly distinguished Knight Commander of the British Empire. Though praised and decorated for his calm and exemplary actions, Rostron was reluctant to speak publicly about the disaster.

RMS Carpathia

RMS Carpathia

Many years later he was asked how the little ship could have been coerced to travel at such speed, and how she had progressed safely through ice in the dark, the deeply religious Rostron simply replied; “A hand other than mine was on the wheel that night.’’ Commodore Rostron died in 1940 and is buried in the graveyard of West End Church.

My family and I will look for his grave during our visit so we too may pay our respects to this quiet hero of the Titanic disaster.

Everyone is a stranger

It’s happened to most of us at one time or another. We bump into someone at a party or in the mall. He greets you like a long lost friend. You think you know him, but you’re not sure. You fumble through a brief chat and hope he did not realise you had no idea who he was.

Imagine not being able to recognize one's spouse and children

Imagine not being able to recognize one’s spouse and children

Sound familiar? Fortunately, this doesn’t happen often, but imagine not being able to recognise even your own children?

We all take it for granted that we can instantly recognize people we know by looking at their faces. But imagine what life would be like if you couldn’t, if your wife or husband looked like a stranger; you couldn’t tell your kids apart and perhaps you couldn’t recognize yourself in a mirror.

Believe it or not, that is what life is like for people who suffer from a mysterious condition called face blindness, or prosopagnosia (from Greek: “prosopon” = “face”; “agnosia” = “not knowing”) that can make it nearly impossible to recognize or identify faces.

Have we met?

Have we met?

The condition was originally thought to have been caused by brain damage such as a tumor, but doctors now believe a congenital version of Prosopagnosia may be passed down genetically as well. An estimated 2.5 percent of Americans may have inherited face blindness.

There are varying degrees of the impairment, and some experts believe up to 10 percent of the population could be affected. But the condition remains relatively unknown.

Briton David Fine has suffered from face blindness all his life.  “I often fail to recognise my children or even my wife … I have failed to acknowledge friends and, more distressingly, those in authority.

I find networking all but impossible, and social situations, from parties to conferences, may cause acute anxiety… I know other staff members by their uniforms and badges. In party clothes, with different hairstyles, they are strangers to me.”

People with prosopagnosia know they are looking at a face but the face does not convey information about identity. As such, people find they use other cues, such as voice, gait or context, to identify people.

Added David Fine: “I memorize hair, jewellery, and favourite clothes. I recognise gaits, tics, and voices, but above all I rely on context: a person of a certain type in our corridor is my colleague ­ but in the supermarket is probably a stranger.”

There is no treatment for prosopagnosia, though scientists around the world are researching the condition and medication may be available in the future. In the meantime, prosopagnosics have to cope the best they can.