Pet ‘pawikan’ regains freedom after 8 years

By HENRY EMPEÑO

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — Here’s what happens when humans trifle with the natural order of things.

“George,” a male sea turtle that was first kept as a pet in Olongapo City, finally swam to freedom at the Camayan Beach Resort here on Tuesday after spending eight years of rehabilitation at the animal center of the Ocean Adventure theme park.

Robert Gonzaga, officer in charge of the theme park, said the turtle had to “unlearn” being dependent on human beings for survival, so his eventual release took so long.

“The problem was that George has become used to being fed and taken care of by humans, so we had to teach him again how to fend for himself,” Gonzaga explained. “But that took so much time.”

The sea turtle, which belongs to Olive Ridley species of sea turtle, locally known as “pawikan,” was found at a beach in Barangay Kalaklan, Olongapo City sometime in 2009.

Rodrigo Poblete, the fisherman who found it, decided to keep the then a juvenile turtle as a pet. Weighing about two kilos, the turtle fitted nicely in a kiddie pool where it stayed for over a year.

However, when the turtle had grown too big for the small pool, Poblete decided to turn his pet over to Olongapo Mayor Rolen Poblete, who in turn asked help from the Wildlife in Need (WIN) Rescue Center in the Subic Bay Freeport.

From there, the turtle, which was observed to have developed abrasions on its shell, was brought to the Ocean Adventure Rescue and Rehabilitation Center (OARRC) where it remained under the care of aquarists until its release last Tuesday.

According to animal experts at the OARRC, initially George would come close to any approaching human because he was used to receiving scraps of food from people.

During his rehabilitation, George was fed with a variety of food ranging from leafy vegetables to shrimps, as well as the turtle’s natural diet—small fishes, and after a while was moved to a natural lagoon where other rescued sea turtles lived.

Veterinarians also conducted monthly physical examinations on George to ensure his health.

During the release on Tuesday, which coincided with the celebration of Sea Turtle Day, George crawled briefly along the beach as humans watched and snapped pictures of his final journey to freedom.

But before reaching the waterline, George paused briefly as if to say goodbye, and then plunged headlong into the welcoming waters.

pawikan release

Ocean Adventure’s Gonzaga, said George was just among the 62 sea turtles rescued from various towns in Zambales and Bataan that were brought to the ocean park for rehabilitation since 2002.

But he was the longest resident at the rehabilitation center. “Basha,” another Olive Ridley that arrived at the center with George on February 3, 2010, has been released to the wilds on July 14 last year.

Gonzaga said that in most cases, the turtle residents of the OARRC were released back into the sea after weeks or months of expert care.

Among the latest pawikan to be released were “Hook,” an Olive Ridley that was operated on to remove a fish hook from inside its mouth; “Wendy,” a Green Sea Turtle with similar hook problem; and “Tinker,” another Olive Ridley which has ingested a fishing line, embedding the hook on its throat. All were rescued in Zambales last March.

Hook was released on March 22, Wendy on March 30, and Tinker on April 10, each after surgery and a brief period for recuperation.

PHOTOS: George, an Olive Ridley sea turtle, heads out to sea and freedom on May 24 after eight years of rehabilitation at the Ocean Adventure Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in the Subic Bay Freeport.

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