All for the love of the environment

In Photo: Bone collector at work

Story & photos by Henrylito D. Tacio

Collecting items and things can be an obsession, or a lifelong vocation for some. It can be a personal fulfillment, or better yet, serve a higher purpose for the good of many.

Darrell D. Blatchley addresses the media in Davao City.

Consider this: Some amass stamps (called philatelists—although they are becoming fewer by the day), while others keep old coins (the numismatists). There are the self-confessed bookworms, the ones who maintain a library of tomes and magazines, and those who have a wide range of dolls.

This writer happens to personally know some people who are art connoisseurs who maintain a very expensive hobby. And he knows for a fact that there are those who are aficionados of cars and airplanes (Hollywood actor John Travolta comes to mind). And he is personally acquainted with a Davao City resident who is fascinated with bones. His name: Darrell D. Blatchley.

Collecting bones may sound weird, but he started this kind of hobby when he was still a teenager. His fascination with bones made him discover that there’s more to an animal than just its meat. Equally important are their skeletons, the basic biological framework that holds their physical structure.

Visitors marvel at the bone collections.

His collection grew as years went by. The collection was so huge, they could already fill up an entire museum. And that was what he did and named it as D’Bone Collector Museum. It is located in Bucana, a walking distance from the Davao City Hall and the San Pedro Parish Church.

“We opened the museum in 2012 with a total of 150 specimens in one floor of the building,” recalled Blatchley, the museum’s proprietor and curator. “Today, the place occupies the three-story building. About 450 specimens are being displayed.”

Only skeletons of an entire animal, or some parts of its bones, are displayed in the museum, which has been named by an award-giving body as one of the Top 20 Cool Places in Mindanao.

Pride of Davao

Skeletons of marine animals

“Our museum is the only one from Davao to make it to the list, and we are ranked third,” declared Blatchley, an American who speaks Visayan well. “A group that conducts consultations for museums in Southeast Asia told us that our collection is one of the most extensive they have seen in the region.”

Consider this: There are more than 100 terrestrial animal species displayed in the museum. More than 500 aquatic animal specimens, including a dugong and a pawikan, can be found inside.

“Of the three known whale and dolphin skeletons on display in the Philippines, our museum cleaned and assembled two of those,” he said. “Worldwide, there are 83 species of whales and dolphins. The Philippines has 27 and the Davao Gulf alone has at least 18.   On display are 14 of them.”

Collecting bones and skeletons is nothing new. But using it as a way of educating people in saving the environment is another. “For me, bones are the ultimate learning tool,” Blatchley said. “So much can still be learned upon death. It tells one the life of the animal, whether it had lived a good life as seen in its healthy skeletal system, or otherwise a hard one, as shown in cracked and deformed bones.”

Skeletons on display

Tropical-forest animals’ bones

Among those being displayed are the bones of a 41-foot-long sperm whale, and those of a grizzly bear. Bones and skeletons of snakes, tarsiers, marine turtles, various fish species, different sizes of the mouths of sharks and birds abound.

“Each visiting group that goes to the museum gets a guided tour about the animals found in each of the displays. One of the things we show to them is how some of the animals have died due to human neglect—no thanks to the garbage that we throw in the ocean or waterways, which bring the demise of our whales and dolphins,” Blatchley explained.

Every animal displayed had a tale to tell. There’s Mercy, a dwarf sperm whale, which died in a fishnet. “She was still alive when the fishermen found her, but they eventually killed her, mistaken that she was a shark that got tangled in their net,” Darrell said. “When she expired, they thought she was not valuable or edible, so they threw her back into the sea. When we recovered her, we discovered she was actually pregnant.”

Another one is a false killer whale named Alcoholic, so named because he was found dead with a bottle of an inebriating beverage inside its stomach. Another marine mammal died of asphyxiation from a piece of plastic wrapper.

In all, about 37 whales and dolphins on display died due to garbage, which is mostly composed of plastic, like candy wrappers; being trapped in fishing nets; injured due to dynamite fishing; or loss of food in their habitat.

Awareness versus neglect

A lot of the animals found in the museum are very seldom seen in their natural habitat. “That for me is sad,” Blatchley noted. “It is because of human neglect, waste, carelessness, overharvesting, or greed that they are now endangered. I want people to know this fact before these species would be gone forever.”

That said, Blatchley is currently conducting an awareness drive. “One does not have to stop a whaling ship to save one of these animals,” he says. “Just by properly disposing garbage, we all can save one. We only have to choose between take only about two steps to the trash bin, or being reckless by just ditching a plastic bag on the ground.”

“More so, we should not buy that endangered parrot which the poacher has for sale outside the mall. A little effort such as these can make a huge difference,” he explained.

Spreading positivity

Indeed, Blatchley is making a huge difference among Filipinos. An American citizen born in the United States, he spent his childhood days in Thailand. When he was 15, his family moved to the Philippines, where his parents helped poverty-stricken and displaced children in Davao City through the Family Circus Children’s Ministries.

Although he is the owner of the museum, he still works with his parents as a youth pastor. “Working in the museum for me is dealing with dead animals. With young people, I am interacting with real people who can still be taught,” he said.

Blatchley considers his work in the bone museum as simply noble. “God cares for His animals, and as human beings, we should take care of His creations,” he said. “As fellow beings, that should be important for us. The museum can teach us to be good stewards of what is around us.”

In 2015 he was the only non-Filipino to receive the prestigious Datu Bago Award among that year’s recipients. The awardees were recognized for their “outstanding, exemplary and selfless efforts to the growth and development of Davao City through its greatest resources, its people and for their invaluable contributions to the preservation of the Dabawenyo cultural heritage.”

“I am deeply honored,” Blatchley  claimed of his Datu Bago Award. “But even if I did not receive the award, I will still be doing what I am doing. But, it helps when people and organizations recognize the value of what we have done, and that it was for the greater good. All the heartaches are worth it.”

Path worth taking

Despite the accolades, Blatchley never stopped working. Of late, he is hosting D-Tour, “a sociocultural and awareness platform that presents itself as a conscience for society at large by presenting situations where an individual is faced by simulated, yet rather common scenarios in life which he may encounter.”

State of Mind Productions Inc., is producing the said eco-conservation and adventure show. The main advocacy of the company is to raise the artistry level in Davao City. “We want to help artists, musicians, filmmakers and others to have an equal opportunity to be seen and heard, which is usually given to a chosen, lucky few,” Blatchley said.

So far, 12 episodes have already been produced. “The show does not only promote the places we visited for purposes of tourism, but is also a vehicle to educate and inform viewers about the beauty of nature around us,” he said during the launch of the  D-Tour.

Although most were filmed in the Davao region, he is looking forward to shoot other episodes outside the area. “We are eyeing at a locale outside ours to go to and live with the  lumads  for a week or so,” he revealed. “We will show how they live in harmony with nature in some cases, what we stand to lose as time goes by.”

When asked for his final words,  Blatchley  said: “Life is a journey full of choices and consequences.   We know that what we are doing with this show is not safe. But if it makes a positive impact for this country and inspire others to take action to protect this great nation and its resources, then we have truly paved a path worth taking.”

Blatchley is happily married to Mary, a Filipina, with whom he has two handsome kids.

Image credits: Henrylito D. Tacio

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