Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio
Darrell D. Blatchley was born in the United States but spent his childhood in Thailand. When he was 15, the family moved to the Philippines, where his parents work helping poverty-stricken and displaced children in Davao City.
Spending more than half of his life in the country and being married to a beautiful Filipina (Mary Gay, with whom he has two sons), he now considers the Philippines as his second home – next to the United States.
For this reason, he opted to open the D’Bone Collector Museum, Inc. in Bucana, walking distance away from the city hall of Davao City. “I grew up in Davao and my kids are born here. So it wasn’t hard for me to decide to put the museum in this premier city of the south,” he says.
Blatchley believes the museum is the first in Mindanao – if not the Philippines. “In Davao City, there are many great places to visit and see live animals like the Philippine Eagle Center, the Malagos Garden Resort, and the Crocodile Park,” he explains. “But the museum we have is some sort of unique as visitors and guests can have a different view of the animals that is impossible to look at if they were alive.”
Blatchley calls himself the bone collector. He has been featured in several national television programs like Balitang K, Jessica Soho Reports, and Born to be Wild. He started collecting different kinds of bones when he was still a young kid.
“My museum has bones from all over the world,” says Blatchley, who has to travel in various parts of the world to collect the bones and skeletons. His collections come from the United States, in some parts of Russia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. “I have bones and skeletons of animals not only from tropical rainforests but also those coming from the oceans,” he says. “I have almost everything – from armadillos to zebras.”
Those who get the chance of visiting the museum – which can compete one of those found at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. – will be mesmerized to see a 41-foot or 12.4-meter long sperm whale (which has the largest species of toothed whale). Bones and skeletons of snakes, tarsier, marine turtles, various fish species, different sizes of the mouths of sharks, and birds abound. “Some of the bones we display, such as the Grizzly bear, are hard to come by. Some bones are almost impossible to find,” Blatchley informs.
The bones and skeletons were collected by Blatchley himself. Some, however, were donated by individual and some organizations.
Collecting animal bones is a tedious task. “If the animal is buried, it would take me several hours to dig it up, making sure I have all the bones. After that, I have to clean all the bones and assemble them piece by piece. For a larger animal, it may take up to months to prepare it before it can be displayed in the museum.”
Based on his experience, the hardest to clean and assemble are the bones of marine animals. “They contain a lot of oil in their bones,” he says. “As such, it takes more time to prepare them. If the cleaning is not done properly, there is a tendency the bones might deteriorate while being on display.”
The museum is open from Monday to Saturday. It charges a minimal entrance fee (P40 for children and P50 for adults) “to help cover our costs of recovering and displaying the bones,” Blatchley says. “We try to keep it as low as possible because we would like people from all walks of life to be able to learn about these animals. Too often, only the privileged ones get to see things like this.”
In the near future, Blatchley plans to conduct workshops “to raise awareness of those endangered animals found in the Philippines.” He also wants to know what can be done to further enhance what is currently being done to protect them.
“We would love to see programs set up to help breed animals such as the tamaraw to avoid seeing them go extinct in our lifetime,” he points out.
Blatchley further explains: “The bones we are displaying at our museum are acquired legally. In fact, some bones were collected even before laws were put in place. We do not promote killing animals for the sakes of getting the bones. There are laws in the Philippines that protect the animals and we support those laws.
“Dead animals, whose bones can be used to further enhance the education of the Filipinos, must be used instead of being wasted away,” he adds. “If we had not recovered the bones we are now displaying, they would be gone forever.”
Blatchley calls the Philippines as “an amazing place filled with beautiful people and wildlife.” Through the museum, he says, “we can teach the people to appreciate and enjoy what they have, and to give them something they have never seen before.”
To some, a bone museum may be seen as weird or strange. “But without what we are doing, there are so many strange and amazing animals that will disappear from this planet. We are performing the ultimate recycling. Taking the death of an animal and making it as a learning tool.”
The D’Bone Collector Museum, Inc. would sort of be his legacy to his children and to the Filipino people. “So many people want to leave this world with something to be remembered by,” he says, adding that the museum “would be something I would be proud of” as a legacy.