Discovering a lost world of rat-eating plants in the Philippines

  • By Jeremy Miles, Friday magazine
  • Published: 15:42 October 9, 2012

  • He has discovered strange plants that eat monkeys and rats in the forest of the Philippines, identified pre-historic plants in Venezuelan jungles, chanced upon a remote plateau littered with gemstones... Jeremy Miles catches up with Stewart McPherson, the award-winning conservationist.

    The small jungle rat couldn’t resist the temptation. The sweet-smelling water, which lay in the large, red pitcher-shaped flower – nepenthes attenboroughii in case you are wondering – was too delicious to ignore.
    Crouching on the lip of the flower it peered in, something it should never have done. The next moment, thanks to the petal’s waxy surface, it lost its grip and slipped smoothly into the rain water that had collected inside the pitcher.

    For a few seconds, the rat struggled desperately to extricate itself from the fluid and scramble up the pitcher’s wall, but the downward facing spines in it prevented the rodent from escaping.
    What happened next is something that continues to remain a source of fascination for not just naturalists and botanists, but for anybody interested in living creatures. The flower began to release enzymes into the liquid, which slowly began to digest the rat. In less than a day, little remained of the rodent. And the flower readied itself to repeat its act.
    If it wasn’t for naturalist Stewart McPherson, few would have known that such a plant exists. An expert in carnivorous plants, the 29-year-old has made it his life’s mission to travel to some of the world’s most remote regions in search of these unknown species.

    It was in 2009 that he first made international headlines when it was revealed that he had discovered a huge, but previously unknown variety of pitcher plant growing on Mount Victoria and Mount Sagpaw in the highlands of the western island of Palawan in the Philippines.

    The real Indiana Jones
    Sitting in the same home where as a child he used to give his astonished parents detailed lectures on the mechanics of the Venus flytrap, now he talks about the kind of expeditions that, to most of us, are the stuff of Indiana Jones movies. Like the time he was guided up a distant mountain in the Philippines by a trio of machete-wielding murderers.

    “We were on land used by a penal colony,” he explains of the area he was trekking through when he found another rare carnivorous plant. “We had to get special permission. The prison authorities eventually agreed, but insisted we took these guys with us as guides.

    “It was an amazing trek, and when we finally got to the top – 2,000 metres up – we discovered a plant, nepenthes deaniana, that hadn’t been seen since 1899.”
    The nepenthes deaniana is a very large carnivorous pitcher plant that grows only on Thumb Peak, the land that was being used as a penal colony. Because of this, the area was relatively inaccessible and unexplored. It took weeks of planning and lots of paperwork in order to explore the area.

    I ask how Stewart got on with the murderers. “Oh they were great fellows, absolutely lovely chaps... and an enormous help clearing our path with their machetes.” Wasn’t he just a little bit worried? Stewart laughs, “No, not at all. I think they might have had some awkward questions to answer if we hadn’t come back.”
    The largest recorded pitcher plant – which Stewart discovered in the Philippines – the nepenthes attenboroughii, can hold more than 1.5 litres of water. The plant is designed to be insectivorous, but is big enough to devour rodents, or even small monkeys that slip inside.

    It employs the same mechanism that all other carnivorous pitcher plants have, except most are only big enough to devour flies, bugs, mosquitos and spiders.

    The press had a field day when they discovered that not only was this plant big enough to trap rats and digest them with its flesh-eating enzymes, but that Stewart had named it in honour of his hero, broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough. Stewart has always admired Sir David’s work in promoting an understanding of the natural world. Sir David was delighted, telling the world that he thought the plant was “elegant and charming.”

    Surveying the breathtaking panoramic views from Stewart’s family home on the Dorset coast, in southern England, it’s easy to see why he was inspired to become an eco-campaigning adventurer.
    Where it all began
    Across the waters of Poole Harbour lies the Arne Nature Reserve, while to the west you can see Holton Heath, a site set up in the First World War to produce Cordite – a smokeless military propelant to replace gunpowder – for the Royal Navy.
    Just a couple of hundred metres to the east, coils of barbed wire and a big, old military-landing craft mark the training ground for the Royal Marine Commandos. “It was pretty exciting growing up here,” says Stewart. “There was always some action going on.” Action is something the ecologist knows all about.
    Within a couple of years of graduating from university – he studied at Durham and Yale – Stewart had become a seasoned explorer and is now the author of 16 books published by his company Redfern Natural History Productions.

     His travels in search of rare flora have taken him to some of the world’s most remote regions, from the mountains of the Philippines to the jungles of Borneo.
    He has made several expeditions to Mount Roraima, a huge plateau deep in the Guiana Highlands of Venezuela. Skirted by towering 600-metre-high cliffs, this is just one of 100 plateaus found in this dense, nearly impenetrable region. The plateaus were isolated for 70 million years and in that time, developed a unique ecosystem
    For more info about Stewart’s expeditions and publications go to

    World's Largest Underwater Hotel to Rise in the Philippines

    Asia's first underwater resort hotel to be built off Philippine island

    ANN - Sunday, January 16SendIM StoryPrint.Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The Philippines is all set to embrace a futuristic undersea project to rival those in Maldives, Dubai and Fiji, according to a Filipino team of developer and architects, which is set to build an underwater resort hotel in Palawan.

    Dubbed as the Coral World Park, this multibillion-peso project will set the record as Asia's first underwater resort development and the biggest undersea living in the world once the project is completed by 2013.

    Picture this: You wake up to a picture perfect view of frivolously swimming manta rays and fishes or hold a meeting in a restaurant submerged in the pristine waters. Say what? All this isn't science fiction according to an all-Filipino team behind the project.

    Taking the helm is Singapore-based businessman Paul Monozca, who is known for his advocacies of helping Filipino sports teams and the overseas remittance business. Partnering with Monozca is renowned eco-architect Jose Pinggoy Manosa, who will take charge of the architectural design of the Coral World Park.

    It's high time we brought sustainable development underwater because there have been similar projects elsewhere in the world that have been proven successful," Monozca told Inquirer Property in an exclusive interview Wednesday.

    He cited global warming and the rising water levels as factors that pushed him to look into the possibility of exploring the readiness of the country for this kind of revolutionary development.

    Pegged at some $150 million, the undersea structure takes pride in its 24 undersea suites or pods called "Anemones," which are submerged 60 feet below sea level with a fascinating 270-degree view of the sea. The 15-foot-high Anemones will be built by a US firm that specializes in submarines.

    Several units of these Anemones will be open for public viewing at reasonable rates while majority are for ownership. Each 50-square-meter Anemone (the size of two-bedroom condo unit) can be customized per owner's preference. It can be used as a private villa, a receiving or entertainment room that could cater to as many as 15 people.

    Filipino ingenuity

    How can one move from one pod/suite to another? The Coral World Park will be built with submarine technology. The mode of transport will be through glass bottom mini-submarines to be powered by the first mobile hydropower system, which generates up to 1 megawatt of electricity. This will use a patented water recycling and pressure chamber invented by an all-Filipino team of engineers, Monozca said.

    The project will show to the world Filipino ingenuity as 80 percent of the project will be run and manned by Filipinos, from engineers to architects down to personnel," Monozca said. When completed, the proposed underwater habitat will be the biggest in the world.

    Also part of the futuristic project is a 50-bedroom onland boutique hotel complete with amenities like casinos, spa, business center and an underwater restaurant to be named �Starfish," which could seat as many as 200 people in its 600-square-meter dining area. A seahorse-shaped science center aptly called �Seahorse Science Center� will be built for tourists and will serve as the park�s marine observatory and conservation center showcasing the richness of marine life in the Philippines.

    The project is expected to pour in billions of investments and will help create thousands of jobs for the people in Palawan and neighboring provinces.

    Conservation tourism

    Funding will come from Monozca's Monaco-based group, which counts investors from the United States, the Middle East and Russia. As an aggressive venture in ecotourism business, the project also aims to replenish the coral reefs in the area and would advocate conservation tourism in the country.

    Monozca related that everything has been in the planning stage since last year. He identified a group of islands in Coron as the site for development owing to its perfect geography, clear and cove-protected waters and rich marine life. The islands of Palawan hardly experience earthquakes and are not prone to visiting typhoons that occasionally hit the country.
    The construction is set to start soon and will be completed in two years, according to Manosa, who said this would be my biggest project so far in my professional career." Manosa is behind some of the biggest projects like the San Miguel Building constructed in the 1980s and the Brent International School.

    I was overwhelmed myself when the project was offered to me. Even my family is excited about this; my grandchildren are asking when they could visit the underwater resort," Manosa said.

    The group dispelled fears of security as the whole resort will be tightly guarded. The proponents also envision a cashless system of transaction as everything will be made via specially issued bracelet cards similar to the function of a credit card.

    The group promised strict adherence to protect the environment and the biodiversity of Palawan. They said no marine life will be harmed during the course of its construction to its operations.


    Tropical living

    The nipa hut also known as bahay kubo, is an indigenous house used in the Philippines. The native house is constructed out of bamboo tied together, with a thatched roof using nipa/anahaw leaves.

    Nipa huts were the native houses of the indigenous people of the Philippines before the Spaniards arrived. They are still used today, especially in rural areas. Different architectural designs are present among the different ethno-linguistic groups in the country, although all of them conform to being stilt houses, similar to those found in neighboring countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia,and other countries of Southeast Asia.

    sabitang laya

    One of the stone islands of Caramoan with powdery white sand beach. Survivor Israel, Bulgaria and Koh Lanta (French Survivor) all shoot in this island and other islands in Caramoan.

    Taal Volcano

    Described as the world's smallest active volcano, Taal is a volcano within a volcano and a lake within a lake. Best view can be had at the viewing deck of Taal Vista Hotel where this photo is taken.

    Ninoy and Cory Avenue

    Find out here if you wish to visit the place.

    Image from Koh Lanta Palawan (French Version of Survivor)

    Interact with Whale Sharks in Donsol, Sorosogon

    (photo credit: timothy willis)
    The Philippine Butanding ("big fish" in the Filipino dialect) is a whale shark, or Rhincodon typus. It ia a rare marine specie, a slow filter feeding shark that is the largest living fish species, reaching lengths from 18 to 35 feet in length or 13-14 meters and weighs about 20 tons. When it has a length of 4.5 meters, the weight is about 750 kg.

    The Butanding inhabits the world's tropical and warm-temperate oceans. Even though considered as primarily pelagic, seasonal feeding aggregations of the sharks occur at several coastal sites such as Donsol, Batangas and Palawan in the Philippines. The highest concentration of whale sharks to be found anywhere in the world is in the Philippines. From January to May, they congregate in the shallow coastal waters of Sorsogon province (at Donsol), and they were found in the waters around Bohol island and some parts of the Visayas and Northern Mindanao.

    Donsol is a 3rd class municipality in the province of Sorsogon, Philippines. Donsol is a popular tourist destination for the Butanding that can be seen in the bordering seas. It is nicknamed the "Whale Shark Capital of the World", with the largest number of recorded sightings of whale sharks anywhere in the world. It serves as a sanctuary to a group of 40 whale sharks. Swimming with whale sharks was featured as the "Best Animal Encounter in Asia" by Time Magazine in 2004. Whale sharks can be seen all-year round except during typhoons, with presence peaking between February and May. In recent years the number of male sharks have out-numbered female sharks by 20:1. The females that are seen, are generally large mature adults in the 7m ~ 9m range. In 2006 five sharks were found dead on the surface, within 30 miles of Donsol. They had all been shot at close range. One shark had 13 bullet wounds to the head.

    More info.

    Mt. Pinatubo Crater Lake Adventure

    Conquering World-Famous Mt. Pintubo
    An opportunity to relish the peace and quiet of the 2.5 km jewel blue crater lake of Mt. Pinatubo in Botolan, Zambales via Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac; drive on board 4x4 all weather jeep along O’Donnell streambed; hike up to the crater for 3 hours and back.Guided tour (Aeta guides), use of 4x4 all weather vehicle, donation for conservation, certificate of conquest. Options: Day tour or overnight accommodation.

    Volcano watching, kayaking, swimming, Aeta community immersion, photo safari, nature appreciation, camping and outdoor living exercises.

    Discover Mt. Pinatubo


    Conde Nast Traveler, the largest circulated and most popular travel magazine in the United States voted Palawan as a tourist destination with the Best Beaches Overall in Asia in its October 2007 issue. Palawan has been cited for its outstanding attractions like Tubbataha Reef Marine Park and St. Paul Subterranean River National Park, both listed under the UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

    Tubbataha Reef, a coral-rich marine park is a favorite dive
    destination in the country and the world.

    The reputable publication noted that Palawan Province's 1,200 miles of sugary beaches wrapped around 1,780 pristine islands have attracted travelers since the Chinese traders crossed now sunken land bridges from Borneo. Tubbataha is a reef ecosystem made up of two atolls that lie on a line of exticnt underwater volcanoes and is a sanctuary for marine life. Located 92 nautical miles southeast of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan, it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its outstanding universal value in terms of marine life species diversity and richness.

    St. Paul Underground River features an 8.2-km navigable
    underground river.

    The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River, otherwise known as the St. Paul Underground River, features a spectacular limestone landscape with an underground river. The area represents a significant habitat for biodiversity conservation as the site contains a full 'mountain-to-sea' ecosystem and has some of the most important forests in Asia.

    El Nido Resorts offer a beyond the usual destination with
    fun-filled activities for the family.

    Almost as unique as these two Heritage Sites is Miniloc Island Resort; where a private beach leads to crystalline waters rife with damselfish. Sister property of Miniloc is Lagen Island Resort; whose 51 over-water pavilions are indeed one-of-a-kind. Amanpulo, Amanresorts' 40 huts scattered along Pamilacan Island's powdery strand is indeed world-class. It was also included in the best hotels category of Conde Nast magazine.

    Lagen Island Resort's over-water pavillions have grown very
    popular over the years.

    Wherever in the Philippines' 7,107 Islands; more particularly in Palawan, dubbed as the country's Last Frontier, there will definitely be beaches reflective of sheer heaven. As in this province alone, anyone will almost surely fall in love with one of the 1,780 mostly uninhabited islands that constitute this wealth of wonder which is beyond the usual. It was definitely enough for Conde Nast Traveler's October issue of The Great Asian Beach Finder to position Palawan as the Best Beach Overall.

    Amanpulo's secluded island offers a wide variety of beach
    and water activities.

    For more information on Miniloc Island Resort and Lagen Island Resort, please visit For information on Amanpulo, please visit For more of the best beaches overall, please visit

    Climate of the Philippines

    Climate of the Philippines

    The Climate of the Philippines is tropical and maritime. It is characterized by relatively high temperature, high humidity and abundant rainfall. It is similar in many respects to the climate of the countries of Central America. Temperature, humidity, and rainfall, which are discussed hereunder, are the most important elements of the country's weather and climate.


    Based on the average of all weather stations in the Philippines, excluding Baguio, the mean annual temperature is 26.6o C. The coolest months fall in January with a mean temperature of 25.5o C while the warmest month occurs in May with a mean temperature of 28.3o C. Latitude is an insignificant factor in the variation of temperature while altitude shows greater contrast in temperature. Thus, the mean annual temperature of Baguio with an elevation of 1,500 meters is 18.3o C. This makes the temperature of Baguio comparable with those in the temperate climate and because of this, it is known as the summer capital of the Philippines.

    The difference between the mean annual temperature of the southernmost station in Zamboanga and that of the northermost station in Laoag is insignificant. In other words, there is essentially no difference in the mean annual temperature of places in Luzon, Visayas or Mindanao measured at or near sea level.


    Humidity refers to the moisture content of the atmosphere. Due to high temperature and the surrounding bodies of water, the Philippines has a high relative humidity. The average monthly relative humidty varies between 71 percent in March and 85 percent in September. The combination of warm temperature and high relative and absolute humidities give rise to high sensible temperature throughout the archipelago. It is especially uncomfortable during March to May, when temperature and humidity attain their maximum levels.


    Rainfall is the most important climatic element in the Philippines. Rainfall distribution throughout the country varies from one region to another, depending upon the direction of the moisture-bearing winds and the location of the mountain systems.

    The mean annual rainfall of the Philippines varies from 965 to 4,064 millimeters annually. Baguio City, eastern Samar, and eastern Surigao receive the greatest amount of rainfall while the southern portion of Cotabato receives the least amount of rain. At General Santos City in Cotabato, the average annual rainfall is only 978 millimeters.

    The Seasons

    Using temperature and rainfall as bases, the climate of the country can be divided into two major seasons: (1) the rainy season, from June to November; and (2) the dry season, from December to May. The dry season may be subdivided further into (a) the cool dry season, from December to February; and (b) the hot dry season, from March to May.

    Typhoons have a great influence on the climate and weather conditions of the Philippines. A great portion of the rainfall, humidity and cloudiness are due to the influence of typhoons. They generally originate in the region of the Marianas and Caroline Islands of the Pacific Ocean which have the same latitudinal location as Mindanao. Their movements follow a northwesterly direction, sparing Mindanao from being directly hit by majorty of the typhoons that cross the country. This makes the southern Philippines very desirable for agriculture and industrial development.

    Climate Map