Saving the Tamaraws from extinction
First Posted 11:39:00 10/11/2008

THIS piece of news should gladden not only the hearts of Far Eastern University students and alumni. It’s a national triumph that FEU’s symbol—the more elegant cousin of the Philippine water buffalo which the Haribon once called “Mindoro’s endangered treasure” and later “the Philippines’ endangered flagship species”—is no longer about to disappear from the face of the earth.

The tamaraw resembles the carabao. But it is darker, has a shorter tail and a V-shaped set of horns while the carabao’s horn is crescent- or C-shaped. A mature tamaraw stands at only about three feet high at the shoulder and weighs 300 kilograms.

Unlike the farming carabao, the tamaraw is wild and fierce. It attacks and pursues intruders.

Scientists who spoke at the Third Tamaraw Forum, held at FEU on Friday, gave the news that the population of Bubalus mindorensis (that’s the tamaraw’s scientific name), also called the “Mindoro dwarf buffalo” has started to stabilize thanks to private sector and government efforts.

Until 2005, Haribon still referred to the tamaraw as an endangered species.

A report by the environmentalist NGO’s writer-researcher Art Fuentes in February 2005 said: “Apart from the Philippine eagle, perhaps there is only one other animal that can best symbolize the mass extinction of species that is happening here in the Philippines—the Tamaraw. Once found in the thousands on the island of Mindoro in the early 1900s, it is estimated that fewer than 300 survive today.

“The reasons for the dramatic decline in the Tamaraw’s population are many. The three most notable factors which led to it are: the introduction of cattle into Mindoro in the early 1900s, rampant hunting of the species, and the widespread logging that destroyed much of Mindoro’s forests where the Tamaraws live.

“In the 1930s, there was an outbreak of the deadly rinderpest disease among the cattle herds in Mindoro. The rinderpest plague eventually spread to the Tamaraws and caused thousands of deaths among them. When the plague subsided, less than a thousand Tamaraws were left.

“In the 1960s and 70s, hunters with automatic weapons flew to Mindoro from Manila to hunt Tamaraws for sport.

“The Tamaraw extinction was further exacerbated by the rampant destruction of Mindoro’s forests—the natural habitat of the animals. In the 1900s Mindoro had a forest cover of over 80 percent. By 1988, this was down to around eight percent. It was no coincidence that the dramatic decline of Mindoro’s forests was accompanied by the dramatic decline of Tamaraw population.

“But the Tamaraw has survived; and with our help it may even thrive. Various efforts are under way to help the Tamaraw regain a healthy population, the most important of which is the restoration of its devastated habitat.”

Haribon’s Fuentes also wrote, “Keeping the remaining forests of Mindoro intact is key to ensuring the Tamaraw’s survival.” For attempts to further increase tamaraw numbers through breeding in captivity have failed.

At last Friday’s Forum, Environment Undersecretary Manuel Gerochi said people have stopped hunting the tamaraw. Not only hunters from Manila but also the Mangyans of Mindoro, to whom catching and sharing a tamaraw had a ritualistic and solidarity-building value, became respectful of the law against tamaraw-hunting.

Observed by environmentalists protecting the Philippine eagle is the need for wild species to be isolated to reproduce.

The effort to keep the tamaraw’s habitat intact must be succeeding.

For Dr. Arnel del Barrio, director of the Department of Agriculture’s Philippine Carabao Center (DA-PCC), said at the Forum that from 2001-2008 the tamaraw population has increased yearly by an average of 10 percent.

Del Barrio reported on the findings of the latest tamaraw expedition last April—participated in by government and private entities. The expedition was organized by the Tamaraw Conservation Program (TCP) at the Mt. Iglit-Baco National Park in Mindoro Occidental. Del Barrio said the group’s tamaraw population count is 263 this year compared to only 175 heads in 2001.

“The calving rate estimated by number of yearlings is considerably high… [which could mean that] more than 55 percent of the Tamaraws are giving birth,” Del Barrio said. In Mount Iglit-Baco National Park, where most of the tamaraws are sighted, the official count of the animal was 263 in 2006, 239 in 2007 and 263 in 2008.

The DENR’s estimate is higher. Gerochi said his agency’s finding is that in some areas of Mindoro today, the tamaraw population has grown to more than 1,000. This a result of the Tamaraw Conservation Program (TCP).

October is meaningful for the tamaraw and those concerned with its continued propagation. In 2002 President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Presidential Proclamation 273, which sets October as a “Special Month for the Conservation and Protection of the Tamaraw in Mindoro.” The proclamation stresses the need for more intense effort to protect, conserve, and perpetuate this national treasure.

It would be good to keep the TCP alive and continue observing October as the special month for tamaraw. For the drive to modernize Mindoro and the greed of human beings can still bring about a situation in which the natural forest habitat of the tamaraw has been wiped out.

The Mangyans could suddenly be goaded by activist shamans to stand for their ancient tradition—hunt and kill tamaraw for its blood and meat. These in the Mangyans’ ancient belief were a source of good health, strength and invincibility.(PDI)


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