As the Philippines’ largest and rarest endemic land animal, the tamaraw is a national icon.
Up until a few years ago, experts estimated the global population to range from 50 to 200 heads. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the species as critically endangered – the highest risk rating for any animal species.
WWF-Philippines, together with the Far Eastern University (FEU) and the Tamaraw Conservation Programme (TCP), engaged in an ambitious project to double the number of wild tamaraw, in a campaign dubbed ‘Tams 2’ – Tamaraw Times Two by 2020.
Locking Horns with Extinction
The tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis) is the world’s rarest and most endangered buffalo species.
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 – about half as much as a typical carabao.
Except for calving cows, adult tamaraw are mostly solitary. Cornered or threatened, they can be aggressive, chasing their foes for up to a kilometer. During the Pleistocene Epoch some 12,000 years back, tamaraw herds ranged across much of mainland Luzon. Extirpated by migrants, an estimated 10,000 heads remained on the island of Mindoro in the early 1900s.
Sadly, this last population has taken severe blows – ranging 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 the Mts. Iglit-Baco National Park in Mindoro (see map).
With less than 500 tamaraw thought to remain today, four national laws protect the species from poaching. Under the Wildlife Act, violators can incur from six to 12 years of imprisonment plus a fine ranging from PHP100,000 (USD $2440) to PHP1M (USD $24,390).
Tamaraw to Tribesfolk
Since 1979, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has been working tirelessly through the TCP to manage and protect tamaraw core habitats, while engaging local communities to partake in conservation efforts. The national park is also home to the reclusive, forest-dwelling Tawbuid or Batangan tribe, part of eight indigenous groups generally classified as ‘Mangyan’.
TCP’s objective is to augment tamaraw numbers while improving the lives of the indigenous Tawbuid. Its long-term goal is to turn the park into the Mts. Iglit-Baco Biotic Area – a zone where the influence of modern society cannot replace the traditional practices of indigenous groups, conserving both the tamaraw and the Tawbuid’s way of life.
Population at All-time High
After three decades of protection, Tamaraw numbers are at an all-time high – with 405 heads counted for 2015. Holdouts have also been reported living in the highest and most densely-forested peaks of Mindoro.
To support these existing TCP and local 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.
Tamaraw Times Two Campaign
The ‘Tams 2’ (Tamaraw Times Two by 2020) campaign synthesizes science-based research with triple bottom-line goals. Camera traps have been deployed in core tamaraw habitats to monitor the species (see map). 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 part of its ‘Save the Tamaraws’ project.
Save the Tamaraw
With only a few hundred remaining, swift action is needed to save these wild dwarf buffalo from extinction.
WWF-Philippines and FEU’s Western Mindoro Integrated Conservation programme ties in tamaraw research and improved park management initiatives with existing efforts to conserve Apo Reef and the rich marine habitats off the coast of Sablayan.
Behavioural studies are underway with the deployment of camera traps in the Iglit-Baco mountain range, a precursor to future deployments in other sites to validate and monitor the existence of remnant tamaraw populations beyond the Iglit-Baco range.
Will we succeed in doubling the tamaraw population from 300 to 600 by 2020? With your help, we can. Please help us turn this dream into a reality.
Get in touch with:
4th Floor JBD Plaza #65 Mindanao Avenue
Barangay Bagong Pag-asa
Quezon City 1105 Philippines
Tel:+632 920 79 23/26//31
Fax:+632 426 3927
Partners in Conservation
Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) – Tamaraw Conservation Programme (TCP)
Far Eastern University (FEU)
Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI)
Local Government of Occidental Mindoro
National Geographic Society
Tawbuid Batangan Mangyan
Western Mindoro Integrated Conservation Program (WMICP)