Brighter tomorrow for less than 500 remaining Tamaraws in Mindoro

Published July 2, 2021, 3:17 AM

by Manila Bulletin

The Philippines is a treasure trove of biodiversity, and proof of the unique flora and fauna that are endemic to the archipelago are the critically endangered Tamaraws. Fortunately, through the initiatives and relentless efforts of the Mindoro Biodiversity and Conservation Foundation, Inc. (MBCFI) together with other partners, the Tamaraws of Mindoro can now look forward to a better tomorrow.

“Amid an unprecedented global health crisis, it was a time for us to reflect, re-strategize, and rebuild a more environmentally-responsible world,” MBCFI executive director Grace Diamante said. “Because of the need to conserve our natural resources, protecting our biodiversity has been amplified even more, and we need to demonstrate immediate action to protect what’s left.”

She also pointed out the urgent need to preserve the endemic Mindoro Dwarf Buffalo: “The Tamaraw is our national pride. Their future as a critically endangered species lies in our hands, and it is our duty as Filipinos to protect our national emblem for biodiversity.” 

First documented in 1888, the Tamaraw, with the scientific name Bubalus mindorensis, is a wild cattle species that has a lifespan of 20 to 25 years. It is a small-hoofed mammal belonging to the water bovine family. Considering that it is a dwarf water buffalo, the Tamaraw is regarded as the largest endemic land mammal in the Philippines.

The MBCFI is a non-stock, non-profit organization duly registered in the Philippines Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2008, to enable the conservation of the unique and threatened environment, biodiversity, and natural resources of Mindoro Island recognized as one of the global biodiversity conservation priority areas.  MBCFI was organized through the efforts of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Program (PBCP), University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), and the Pilipinas Shell Foundation Inc. with support from Malampaya Joint Venture Partners.

Highlighting the rarity of the Tamaraws

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Departure of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) officially listed the Tamaraw as critically endangered in 2000.

The Tamaraws started to lose their homes when human settlers started to claim the grasslands and other areas which they had occupied. The rinderpest epidemic during the 1930s likewise contributed to the decline of their population.

At present, the most critical factor that continues to threaten their very survival is the deterioration of their habitat due to infrastructure development, illegal logging, and deforestation. To date, there are less than 500 Tamaraws left in Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park.

Resilient rangers

Mounts Iglit-Baco does not only serve as a home for the Tamaraws, but also to the Mangyans, the ethnic group of Mindoro Island. As the original inhabitants of Mindoro, the Mangyans regard the Tamaraws as an important facet of their culture and tradition. They believe that when the Tamaraws cease to exist, they too will cease to exist.

To protect the Tamaraws, some Mangyan tribe members have become Tamaraw rangers and wardens to protect the habitats of these valued creatures and defend them from poaching. Even as the pandemic ravages through the island and the rest of the world, the Tamaraw rangers continue to perform their duties even on reduced compensation and limited resources.

Despite the two animals’ similarities, the Tamaraw is not a subspecies of the local carabao. Compared to the latter, it is distinguished by its hairy features, light facial markings, and shorter horns that form the letter V. It feeds on grass, bamboo shoots, and wild sugarcane, and thrives in grassy plains and marshy areas in the island.

A call to arms for Mindoro’s future

Diamante emphasized that in order to secure the bright future of biodiversity in Mindoro, especially the endemic Tamaraw, there has to be a strong collaboration across the different sectors of society. One such avenue where the public and civil society can express their support is through the Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Center (MBCC) which broke ground and first started construction in Puerto Galera in September 2020.  It is a testament to MBCFI’s commitment to protect the biodiversity of Mindoro Island for future generations and to ensure the longevity of the Tamaraw.

Rising in Puerto Galera, the gateway to the tourism cluster of the island, the MBCC aims to promote the natural beauty and unique biodiversity of Mindoro Island.

The creation of this iconic one-story building measuring 600 square meters will be a physical embodiment of sustainability, benefiting both the present and future generations by underscoring the symbiotic relationship between people and natural sources. It will feature facilities such as a museum, research laboratory, library, an amphitheater, heritage hall, view deck, audio-visual room, conference and training rooms. The center will also have an ecolodge, camping area, greenhouse area, and nature trail.

Following good health, safety, security, and environmental (HSSE) records, 40 percent of the first phase of the MBCC project was accomplished as of April 2021. In order to see its completion, more funding support is needed aside from what had been initially funded by MBCFI. 

“We are inviting the public to partner with us in completing the conservation center by donating to our foundation,“ Diamante said.

Melting pot of biodiversity

The MBCFI programs and MBCC project will safeguard and nourish Mindoro and its teeming precious wildlife and plant life. The seventh largest island in the Philippines, Mindoro, or Mina de Oro (goldmine) as the Spaniards once called it, is a haven of treasures featuring the majestic Mount Halcon, the world-renowned Apo Reef Natural Park, and the ASEAN Heritage Park Mts. Iglit-Baco, a protected area where the remaining Tamaraws roam free. “Public participation and support will not just ensure the wonderful continuity of Mindoro’s biodiversity and its resources, but it will also open the eyes of the people to the natural treasures in our own country,” said Diamante. “Once you see this ecosystem, you cannot help but want to see that it flourishes and grows.  Biodiversity havens like MIndoro Island will make one proud to be Filipino.”