“The whole mission of the museum is to educate,” says Darrell D. Blatchley, an American who lives in Davao almost half his life that he now speaks Bisaya well. “Our goal is that these animals will be ambassadors for the living.”
Blatchley is not speaking about live animals but their skeletons and bones. And the museum he is referring to is D’Bone Collector Museum, of which he is the president and the chief executive officer.
During the recent re-opening of the museum, he reported that the Philippines Travel Tourism Awards has singled out it as the second most unique museum in the Philippines. Among the top 5 museums in the country, D’Bone Collector Museum was the only museum from Mindanao to be included in the list.
In his speech, he said that the idea of coming such a museum came while he and his family was visiting the United States more a decade ago. They went inside a store and saw a collection of different complete bones of animals.
Mary, his wife, was awed with what she saw. But the hitch was: it was a gun store. “They were selling guns to kill those animals,” Darrell says with a sneer.
D’Bone Collector Museum is the exact opposite. Darrell established the museum to educate people who come to the museum. “For me, bones are the ultimate learning tool,” he explains. “So much can still be learned upon death. It tells you the life of the animal; whether it had a good life (healthy bones) or a hard one (cracked and deformed bones).”
Speaking like a true environmentalist and son of a preacher, he adds, “God cares for His animals and we humans should take care of His creations. But the most important thing is still our fellow beings. The museum merely teaches us to be good stewards of what is around us.”
Darrell works in tandem with the local government units and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. “Together, we teach guests and visitors that these animals are found not just in the Philippines but also in other parts of the world.”
When the museum was opened to the public for the first time in 2012, there were only 150 specimens displayed. Last year, more than 3,000 specimens were contained in the museum. So much so that it named as having “the largest collection of its kind for Southeast Asia.”
With the re-opening, visitors can expect to see more than 5,000 specimens, including bones and footprints of dinosaurs. “We are continuing to push the quality of our museum higher to raise the education level and environment awareness,” Darrell points out.
As a matter of fact, the museum is one of the leaders when it comes to bone preservation. “We have cleaned and assembled more whales and dolphin skeletons and other animals than any other facility in the Philippines,” Darrell says.
It’s only in this local museum that you can see the largest whale skeleton in the country (at 41 feet long). It also has the smallest species of whales, the dwarf sperm whale. Also on display is the only complete skeleton of Hotouli baked whale.
Bones and skeletons of snakes, tarsier, marine turtles, various fish species, different sizes of the shark mouths, birds, dogs, horses, and sheep abound.
A lot of animals found in the museum are rarely seen. “That for me is sad,” Darrell says. “It is because of human neglect, waste, carelessness, over harvesting, or greed that they are now endangered. I want people to know this fact before these species will be gone forever.”
He can do this through awareness campaign. “You don’t have to stop a whaling ship to save one of these animals,” he explains. “Just by properly throwing away your garbage, you can save one. It takes only two steps to the garbage can or doing nothing by throwing the plastic bag on the ground. By not buying that endangered parrot which the poacher has for sale outside the mall is another. Little things like these that when you add them altogether can make a huge difference.”
True to his words, he doesn’t buy live or dead animals, especially those from the Philippines, for his museum. “For one, it is illegal,” he says. “For another, most of the animals are endangered. If I buy them alive, then it encourages more ‘deaths’ of these animals.”
D’Bone Collector Museum is one of a kind in the Philippines. In fact, it can be compared to one of those museums found at the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C. in the United States.
So unique is the museum that four months after it opened to the public in 2012, the Mindanao Associations of Mindanao named it as the Best Museum in Mindanao. The Trip Advisor named the museum as the number one for all places to visit in Davao and ranked No. 5 among all places to visit in Mindanao.
In 2015, Darrell became 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 contribution to the growth and development of Davao City through its greatest resources, its people and for their invaluable contribution to the preservation of the Dabawenyo culture heritage.”
“It’s a very high honor,” Darrell says of his Datu Bago Award. “Even if I was not given the award, I will still be doing what I do. But it helps when people and organization recognize the value of what you have done and that it was and is for the greater good. All the heartaches are worth it.”