Ten thousand tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis) once grazed and bred throughout the island of Mindoro. Sadly, the population has taken severe blows – from a crippling outbreak of cattle-killing Rinderpest in the 1930s to incessant land clearing and poaching. It is thought that only a few hundred hold out atop the grassy slopes and forest patches of Mounts Iglit, Baco, Aruyan, Bongabong, Calavite and Halcon in Mindoro.
Differentiated from the larger and more docile carabao (Bubalus bubalis carabanesis), the stocky tamaraw bears distinctive V-shaped horns, a shorter tail and a shaggy coat of chocolate to ebony fur. Adults stand four feet tall and average 300 kilograms.
Today the tamaraw is classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered – the highest risk rating for any animal species. Four national laws protect it from poaching – Commonwealth Act 73 plus Republic Acts 1086, 7586 and 9147.
Photo by: Gregg Yan
Under RA 9147 or the Wildlife Act, violators can incur from six to 12 years of imprisonment plus a fine ranging from PHP100,000 (USD2440) to PHP1M (USD24,390).
Since 1979, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has been working tirelessly through the Tamaraw Conservation Programme (TCP) to manage and protect tamaraw core habitats, while engaging local communities to partake in conservation efforts. Among it initiatives are the establishment of a 280-hectare Gene Pool farm coupled with continued research and habitat protection.
To support these existing TCP and government initiatives, WWF-Philippines partnered with the Far Eastern University (FEU) for an ambitious goal – to double wild tamaraw numbers from 300 to 600 by 2020.
Dubbed ‘Tams 2’ (Tamaraw Times Two by 2020), the campaign synthesizes satellite-tagging, DNA analysis and other science-based research initiatives with improved park management practices. These upland efforts shall in turn be tied in with WWF’s ongoing work to conserve the rich coasts of Occidental Mindoro in a holistic ‘Ridge-to-Reef’ conservation plan.
With its gold and green tamaraw icon, FEU has since 2005 provided support for a tamaraw management and research-oriented program by participating in annual tamaraw counts each April. FEU has additionally extended health and livelihood services for communities residing in and around the Mts. Iglit-Baco range as a component of its ‘Save the Tamaraws’ project. Says FEU Chief Financial Officer Juan Miguel Montinola, “The tamaraw is no mere FEU mascot – it is a charismatic Filipino icon. This alliance is not just about the tamaraw. It is about connecting people with the environment.”
“Yes, I believe that we can double the number of wild tamaraw before 2020,” says TCP Head and Mts. Iglit-Baco Protect Area Superintendent Rodel Boyles. “This April, we counted 327 heads – the highest ever posted since we began our annual surveys in 2001. There were many calves and yearlings, a sure sign that the population is breeding. Finally, the count is conducted in a 16,000 hectare portion of a 75,000 hectare park. If we can find 327 heads in this small area – than there should be many more.”
“This new initiative raises the stakes for all groups,” says WWF-Philippines Vice-Chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan. “Our engagement will revitalize logged-over mountain habitats, with the tamaraw as its conservation icon. Healthy peaks and forests translate to a better-managed source of water so essential for the vast rice-lands of this island’s western floodplains, while healthy reefs generate vast amounts of protein. Together with FEU, TCP and the DENR, our goal is to bring conservation results to the groups that need them the most.”
For further information:
Occidental Mindoro Project Manager, WWF-Philippines
Communications & Media Manager, WWF-Philippines