The Tamaraw of Mindoro
BY: ERROL A. GATUMBATO
SAN JOSE, OCCIDENTAL MINDORO. The moment you get out from the airport terminal in this southern municipality of Occidental Mindoro province, the imposing and beautiful statue of the Tamaraw will surely catch your attention. Indeed, the Tamaraw symbolizes Mindoro since it could only be found in this island and nowhere else in the world. The Tamaraw is the known largest wildlife mammalian species in the Philippines and one of the globally most critically endangered mammals. During my recent visit in this relatively dry part of the country, I’ve got a chance to see for the first time the live Tamaraw at the so called Tamaraw Gene Pool of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. I was with the team of Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc. headed by its Executive Director, Grace Diamante, when we decided to drop by at the gene pool before proceeding to our main activity. We were in Occidental Mindoro to observe the class demonstration by several public school teachers on how they integrate biodiversity conservation education to their respective subjects.
To my dismay, HOWEVER, the gene pool seems just only the name of the place, where one lonely Tamaraw exists in an
enclosure at the foot slopes of Mount Iglit-Baco National Park. The gene pool was originally intended for the captive breeding of Tamaraw because the wild population of the species is getting limited. As such, 20 Tamaraws were reportedly captured in the wild and brought in the gene pool. Unfortunately, the gene pool was badly managed and only one Tamaraw is now left in the place. What happened to 19 other Tamaraws remains a question on how this supposedly important conservation initiative was implemented. The Tamaraw, known to science as Bubalus mindorensis, was first recorded in 1800’s when Mindoro was still relatively isolated. The mixed vegetation of natural grasslands and forests of Mindoro became an ideal place for Tamaraw to thrive until in the 1900’s when its population started to decline. Hunting and habitat destruction and conversion are main causes why the Tamaraw is now listed in the Red List of Threatened Species of the IUCN-World Conservation Union, and may soon be extinct in the wild if threats to the survival of this important species are not properly addressed.
The Tamaraw Conservation Project of the DENR conducts annual Tamaraw count during summer at Mt Iglit-Baco to monitor the number of species in the wild. Last year, the Tamaraw headcount was 274 individuals, according to Ricardo Natividad, one of the members of the DENR Tamaraw Count Team. However, in 2010, 314 individual Tamaraws were counted. Natividad opined that the decline in number in 2011 was due to heavy rain at the time of the survey, which probably prevented other Tamaraws to come in open fields. The importance of Tamaraw is now getting the attention of general public in two provinces of Mindoro. While Tamaraw is an important species when it comes to biological diversity, its ecology is not yet fully established. If one is not keen in observing the physical features of the Tamaraw, it can be mistaken as carabao. But unlike carabao with horns that grow at the sides of their heads, the horns of the Tamaraw are found close together at the top of its head. Moreover, the horns of carabao are “C” shape while Tamaraw has “V” shape horns.
Just like any other wildlife, Tamaraw is also reclusive and tend to shy away with people. Its preferred habitat is a highland type of forest, which characterizes the Mt. Iglit Baco where much of the remaining population of Tamaraw is found. However, Tamaraw also grazes in thick brush, grasslands and open-canopy forests. The endemism of Tamaraw may also be attributed to the geological history and formation of Mindoro. This island has never been connected with the rest of the islands of the Philippines. In fact, Mindoro is classified as a distinct bio-geographic zone and one of the faunal regions of the country. Aside from Tamaraw, there are several other endemic species that can only be found in Mindoro.
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