Saving the critically endangered tamaraw

- The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - They’re short, shy and fierce. But for the tamaraws (Bubalus mindorensis) of Mindoro – time is fast running out.   

Just over a century ago, an estimated 10,000 tamaraws grazed and bred throughout the island of Mindoro. But the population has taken severe blows – ranging from a crippling outbreak of rinderpest in the 1930s to incessant land clearing and trophy hunting.

Only about 300 of the wild dwarf buffalo remain – holding out atop the grassy slopes and forest patches of Mts. Iglit, Baco, Aruyan and Calavite in Mindoro. 

Though considered incredibly tough, the tamaraw (like the Komodo dragon) is a narrow-distribution species, wholly endemic to Mindoro.

This Philippine dwarf buffalo is now classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered – the highest risk rating for any animal species. 

Many Mindoro groups have taken up the cudgels for tamaraw conservation. Now, further help is on the way. 

To support the conservation of both the tamaraw and its productive mountain habitats, leading environmental-solutions provider World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines (WWF-Philippines) partnered with top academic institution Far Eastern University (FEU) with an ambitious goal – to double wild tamaraw numbers from 300 to 600 by 2020. 

Ridge to reef conservation

As the oldest island in the Philippine archipelago, Mindoro is one of the seven distinct bio-geographical zones of the country. Occidental Mindoro alone hosts two extremely productive natural zones – the Iglit-Baco mountain range and Apo Reef. 

WWF and FEU’s western Mindoro integrated conservation program ties in tamaraw research and improved park management initiatives with current efforts to conserve Apo Reef and the rich marine habitats off the Sablayan coast. 

WWF has supported the management and conservation of Apo Reef for over 10 years.

This effort has revolved around a partnership with the municipality of Sablayan to better manage its fisheries and municipal waters.

A crowning achievement was the declaration of all of Apo Reef a “no-take” zone in 2007 – echoing the standards set by Tubbataha Reef in Palawan.

Both marine parks now form the core of WWF’s Great Reefs Project in the Philippines.

WWF also works with the municipalities of Mamburao, Sablayan and Sta. Cruz in a conservation-led fisheries improvement scheme aimed at improving the traceability and supply chains of handline-caught yellow-fin tuna.  

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), through its Tamaraw Conservation Program (TCP), has been studying and conserving the species since 1979.

Among it initiatives are the establishment of a 280-hectare gene pool farm coupled with continued research and habitat protection. 

Says FEU chief financial officer Juan Miguel Montinola, “The tamaraw is no mere FEU mascot – it is a charismatic Filipino icon. We partnered with WWF because its holistic and people-oriented outlook transcends mere conservation. Our alliance is not just about the tamaraw. It is about connecting people with the environment.” 

Through its ‘Save-the-Tamaraws’ project, the students and faculty of FEU have since 2005 provided support for a year-round 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 Iglit-Baco Range. 

“This new tamaraw research effort raises the stakes for WWF, FEU and the DENR in Mindoro Occidental,” quips WWF-Philippines vice chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan.

“Ultimately, our engagement will revitalize key mountain habitats in Occidental Mindoro, with the tamaraw as its conservation icon. Healthy peaks and forests translate to a better-managed source of water so essential for the vast ricelands of this island’s western floodplains, while healthy reefs generate vast amounts of protein. Our goal is two-fold – to double the number of wild tamaraws by 2020 – and to ensure that the ridges and reefs of Mindoro remain productive to adequately provide for its people in a climate-defined future,” Lorenzo said.

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