The camera lens adjusts, comes into focus, whirs, and then blink goes the red light. It is but another day in the clinic. The doctors—veterinarians at that, prepare for a long day of busily attending to their ever-unpredictable patients.
Following through, the camera reveals the vets shedding off their white coats—no need for these. Instead they don rashguards, fisherman’s hats, trekking shoes, and take their water canteens, camping bags, and emergency kits with them.
For their clinic is never confined in the white-washed walls of a structure—the camera zooms out and reveals one vast expanse—the rainforests, the fields, the skies, the ocean. They are vets to the wild, responding to their personal calling of caring for the planet’s wildlife no matter what the cost.
Focus on the subjects: wildlife vets Dr. Ferds Recio and Dr. Nielsen Donato. Upping their mission a level higher by doing their jobs and giving a bit more by being hosts to GMA Network’s award-winning environmental documentary program Born To Be Wild and its recently launched weekend edition Born Impact.
“My advocacy is to do wildlife conservation ever since, and also to be able to make Filipinos value our own Philippine wildlife before they all disappear,” shares Doc Nielsen of what drives him as both a vet and a host.
For Doc Ferds, it is the intricacy of caring for another living thing saying, “I call for responsible pet ownership. I have seen so many cases of pet owners neglecting their pets if they can’t take care of them anymore. Caring for another life is a responsibility. If you think you can't handle the downside or the responsibility, do not own a pet.”
And to elaborate for them are snapshots from their weekly expeditions to the world’s wildest frontiers, where they hang the sign “the vets are in.”
In 2011, the blue whale was first documented by Doc Ferds and his team in Pamilacan, Bohol . It was the first extensive video documentation by a Philippine TV crew of the biggest creature in the world. Even Doc Ferds himself could not believe they were able to film the mammal.
“We were told that it’s a whale shark only to discover that it was the biggest mammal on the planet. We feel very proud to be one of the first (if not the first) ever to film the largest animal in the planet here in the Philippines . Some biologists spend their whole lives studying whales without actually having seen the blue whale in the wild. We feel so blessed and very lucky to be able to share this with the Filipinos. It just goes to show how rich and diverse our waters are in the Philippines and how we should make every effort to protect them from continuous decline,” exclaims Doc Ferds.
But it’s not all magnificent because even nature has its share of the most heartbreaking events.
Snapshot #2: Whale Stranding
“That was one of the most unforgettable moments of my life,” shares Doc Ferds after personally bearing witness to a stranding of a humongous sperm whale in Mamburao, Mindoro in 2010. What’s more, in his hands depended the saving of the gigantic patient being the only veterinarian on site then.
Stranding of marine creatures has been apparent in recent years with dolphins and whales ending up on the shores, away from their natural habitat, where drowning and eventually dying is almost always a possibility.
Snapshot #3 to 5: Dragons
They are believed to be mythical, if not ancient creatures. And to see one is like a wish being granted, at least for Doc Nielsen who has a confessed love for reptiles.
“One dream came true already when we featured the Komodo Dragon. It was really amazing to see them face-to-face and to be able to study their behavior—being able to walk with a roaming 9-foot Komodo. But they are also known to be man-eaters so my team and I had to be extra careful.”
The Komodo Dragon is the biggest monitor lizard in the world. A bite from this fearsome creature can be deadly as their saliva is said to contain 13 kinds of bacteria. But even this “king of lizards” could not escape becoming critically endangered in the past. Today, with conservation efforts, their numbers have slowly recovered. Although they are still classified as “vulnerable” to extinction, Komodos are regaining their place as top predators in their native island. In January 2013, Born to be Wild featured Doc Nielsen’s dream encounter with the dragon in Indonesia’s Komodo National Park.
Snapshot #6: Komodo Dragon preying on a deer
Wildlife documentarists and film enthusiasts around the world have long waited to chance upon a very rare footage of this fierce reptile consuming its prey. Doc Nielsen’s team was more than lucky to have documented a truly rare event where others have failed.
“The pressure on our team was really high. The project is very challenging because we have to get exciting and new footage that can be at par with international documentaries. We were lucky that a ranger called our attention saying a newly hunted Timor deer was being eaten up by a Komodo Dragon. That was something rare!”
Snapshot #7: The Rescue of the Bitatawa
Previous studies show that the fruit-eating monitor lizard called varanus bitatawa is found only in the province of Isabela. This remained true until in 2011 when Doc Nielsen’s rescue of the reptile led to the conclusion that varanus bitatawa also thrive in the mountains of Aurora.
“The bitatawa is one of the rarest monitor lizards in the world. We were investigating wildlife trafficking when we bumped into someone trading them. We almost lost the lizard when they hid the bitatawa under a concrete slab behind the house but when it was finally returned, I was so relieved to have rescued such a rare, endemic animal from illegal traders,” tells Doc Nielsen of the rescue operation he did with his team.
Snapshot #8: Varanus Palawanensis
Doc Ferds also has his share of encounters with reptiles. Returning to the island of Sabang in Palawan to study the behavior of monitor lizards in the area, he finds himself discovering a study which confirms that the varanus palawanensis is a subspecies of monitor lizards endemic to the Philippines, which means that this reptile can only be found in this part of the vast planet.
Snapshots #9 to #12: Fearless Snake Encounters
Who does not fear these deadly, slithery creatures? But for Doc Nielsen, they are animals of amazing beauty. “Strange really but my adrenalin rushes every time I see these magnificent animals. I get so excited that I always get reminded to be careful.” Although only a small percentage of snakes are venomous, Doc Nielsen reminds viewers that it still pays to be cautious and call on the experts to respond should one encounter a snake in one’s own backyard. Driven away from their homes because of loss of forests, more and more snakes find themselves in human settlements in their hunt for food.
Snapshot #13: Little “man-eater”
In his recent trip to Indonesia, Doc Ferds came face-to-face with the critically endangered Sumatran Tiger locally known in Indonesia’s Riau Province as the “man-eater.” Confronted with the apparent decline of these species, Doc Ferds accompanied a team of conservationists as they planted video cameras in the wild to know whether these wild beasts still reproduce in Sumatra ’s forests.
“We have so many issues in our local wildlife and to visit other countries to document their local animals like the Sumatran Tiger is an amazing experience. We realized that they are faced with the same threats, experiencing the same problems, and desiring the same change as we do. Seeing the tiger cub in the video elicit hope for the future of these endangered animals,” shares Doc Ferds.
Snapshot #14: More than just vets
It takes more than a title or a job description. Being veterinarians devoted to preserving what is left of this amazing planet, both Doc Ferds and Doc Nielsen have dedicated their lives not just for their chosen profession but for the sake of reaching out to as many people as possible, who share the same Earth everyone inhabits, to create a difference and make it a better place.
“I always say that I find peace and satisfaction in knowing that we are part of the solution,” says Doc Ferds.
And this is when the camera zooms out, revealing the ocean, the skies, the fields, and the rainforests once more, altogether seemingly different—the immense clinic these dutiful vets report to and painstakingly preserve.
Born To Be Wild airs every Wednesday night, after Saksi, while Born Impact airs every Sunday morning, after AHA!, on GMA-7.