Update: We received a news earlier today, January 3, 2020, that Sir Rey had passed away.
Rest in Peace to our Bird Hero!
Rey Malana was just a regular farmer tending to his family’s 2.5 hectares of black pepper plantation in the rural village of Baras in Tacurong City. That was back in the 90s. But everything changed when sometime in September 1996, four birds started to appear, and, apparently after a while, stayed in his farm.
Kuya Rey’s pepper farming came to an end when the four birds eventually grew in number and now reaching an estimated 20,000 birds. But it never saddened him and his family. In fact, with the support of everyone under his lead, the family gave up farming to give the Philippine endemics and migratory birds coming from as far as Siberia and China a home.
Their former farm located near the banks of Allah River and nearby swamplands is now known as the Baras Bird Sanctua ry, a government recognized conservation zone just seven kilometers from the Tacurong town proper. It is now the most popular tourist destination in the city. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources considers Baras as a “wetland site for water birds in the Philippines. It is counted as the second largest roosting and nesting site of egrets and herons in the country.”
Majority of the birds living in the sanctuary are from the subspecies of Egrets and Herons. The Egrets subspecies include the Great Egret, Little Egret, Intermediate Egret and the Cattle Egret which is known locally as the Tulabong. For Herons nesting and sharing the same farm that is now a forest, they are from subspecies of Black Crowned Night Heron, Javan Pond Heron and the Rufus Night Heron. Twenty thousand cageless birds in the wild and Kuya Rey acts as their father now, taking care of their safety from poachers and hunters.
Kuya Rey’s joy with the winged wonders even grew when he found out that the rusty red-colored striking wading birds, the rare Glossy Ibis, are sharing some nests in the sanctuary too. What did he do for the thousands of birds to stay in his place? He can’t recall anything except that when he just allowed the birds to establish a home in his farm. And maybe the birds love it when they are not harmed, he said. The area is also strategic for birds flying to Buluan Lake, Lake Sebu, Liguasan Marsh and vast farmlands nearby to search for food. At the end of the day for the diurnal birds, or at the end of the night for the nocturnal birds, they have a place to come home to.
Kuya Rey is now working at the City Environmental Management Office and it helps him gain more linkages for support to further protect the birds and their adopted habitat in Baras. He said that through the local government’s support through infrastructure, training, and protection and conservation measures, the birds now feel that they are more welcome than ever.
Kuya Rey currently leads all the Bird Ecoguides in the sanctuary. Among them all, he is the most passionate as he knows every detail of history of the sanctuary, the bird characteristics and behaviors of the winged occupants.
Looking back to his farming days, Kuya Rey was earning more than what he’s earning today. But it’s all fine, he said. He is now earning what not everybody can ever achieve in a lifetime, the love and respect of 20,000 birds. Here’s one real bird hero. 
Visit Baras Bird Sanctuary in Tacurong City and meet Kuya Rey and see the birds.
How to get there:
The Sanctuary is only around 10 minutes away from the city proper via Tricycle or private vehicle. It’s on the left side of the main highway going to the town of Isulan.
Tacurong City is 40 minutes away from Koronadal, 1 hour and 40 minutes if from Gensan, or 4 hours from Davao City. Nearest airports are in Davao City and General Santos City.
For more information, or bookings, please contact Tacurong City Mayor’s Office-Tourism Section at (064) 562-0236 or (064) 200-6682. Look for Maam Emily Jamorabon, the Tourism Officer.