Caburan’s role in Zoology

by Antonio V. Figueroa

Now known as Jose Abad Santos, Davao Occidental, Caburan’s contributions to science, especially in zoology, are found in numerous scientific papers, accounts, and reports that date to the Spanish rule of Davao. Even after the war, during the 1946-47 Philippine Zoological Expedition, it was one of the significant areas where scientists, with help from local guides, explored and gathered specimens while in search of new animal species.

Dr. Harry Hoogstraal, An American who was recognized as the world’s foremost authority on insects and parasites, stayed in Caburan for six weeks to document reports of a good tarsier population and the sighting of a Philippine eagle nest. The expedition visited three mountains south of Caburan, namely Mt. Tacob, Mt. Busaw, and Mt. Batuan.

Other important profiles in the expedition, which was supported by The Edgar E. Ayer Lecture Foundation Fund, were Lt. Donald Heyneman, Infantry, U.S. Army, who was a prewar student at Harvard University, and Floyd Werner, a discharged Army officer employed by the Chicago Natural History Museum.

The expedition’s headquarters for its Mindanao operations was in Davao City. Maj. Clinton Feeney, enemy property custodian, supplied the living quarters and provided food, laboratory, and storage space. Assisting him in the chores were Lt. William Patton, Capt. Thomas Bilbo, Sgt. Walter Thompson, and Cpl. Albert Shipske.

The expedition departed Davao on a launch on Jan. 6, 1947 but disembarked at the wrong place. Instead of Caburan, they dropped anchor at Calian, the home of the year-long scientific prewar study conducted by entomologist Charles F. Clagg, the American lord of the flies. It was only two days later that the group proceeded to Caburan in the company of C.H. Wharton, a live-animal collector based in Manila, and a few helping hands.

At Caburan, the contingent had the treat of being hosted by the Joyce family, i.e, William, John, and Henry. More importantly, the Joyces closely coordinated with team members in the collection of tarsiers and a Philippine eagle specimen, aside from providing the much-needed information of the area where the zoological samples could be gathered.

Caburan’s prewar landscape, as described by Hoogstraal, had low mountains that bordered the constricted littoral plain and extended inland towards the rambling Mindanao lowlands, while the foothills subsided to the sea. He observed that the coastal areas were principally occupied by coconut trees and second-growth vegetation, including trees, herbs, and shrubs.

As was the condition of other Davao areas at the time, the team found small clearings that were used as agricultural patches although deeper into the territory there were still original forest trees that hosted a cornucopia of animal inhabitants. The expedition’s gathering of specimens where focused in the second growth, which, after decades without human intervention, had become a habitat of a great quantity of animal samples. Dr. Hoostraal wrote his first-hand account of the voyage in Narrative and Itinerary (1951), saying: “The forest streams grassy areas, narrow ravines, old second growth, and burned clearings have a variety of inhabitants. Disturbed original forest with its many logs, small, cleared areas, and alternating dark and sunlit patches is especially good for invertebrate collecting. Collecting of frogs, lizards, birds, and many kinds of invertebrate is good in the original dipterocarpous forest, and the species are generally different from those outside, but a considerable part of this fauna occurs high in the trees and is ordinarily obtainable.”
The zoological team also collected various species of snakes, Malay and palm civet cats, unimagined number of tarsiers and several small bat species. Also observed were monkeys, which are part of the Philippine eagle’s diet.

At the heart of town, the expedition found that Caburan was host to only a few houses, mainly settled on a low hill that was roughly a kilometer from the coast. The team also took note of the small hamlet of Marabatuan and the settlement of Culaman, which was accessible by taking the coast on foot or negotiating the low hills.