Perhaps there is only one other animal apart from the Philippine Eagle that can best symbolize the mass extinction of species that is happening here in the Philippines – the Bubalus Mindorensis, more commonly known as the Tamaraw. Once found in the thousands in the island of Mindoro in the early 1900s, it is estimated that fewer than 300 survive today. It is one of the most critically-endangered species on the planet.
WHAT IS THE TAMARAW?
The Tamaraw looks a lot like the common carabao, although smaller. The mature Tamaraw stands only about three feet high at the shoulder and weighs 300 kilograms. Besides its size, the Tamaraw has several physical characteristics that distinguish it from its bigger cousin.
The Tamaraw has smaller V-shaped horns unlike the carabao’s which are large and C-shaped. The Tamaraw also has denser hair that varies from dark brown to grayish black in color. Also, the Tamaraw is a wild and fierce animal very unlike the domesticated carabao. If cornered or disturbed in its natural habitat, the Tamaraw will attack and pursue the intruder relentlessly. The indigenous Mangyans of Mindoro rightly respect the Tamaraw and keep their distance from it.
LIFE AND REPRODUCTION
A lone Tamaraw is rare sight, but it is an even rarer sight to see two or more Tamaraws traveling together. Tamaraws are largely solitary. Males and females may associate throughout the year, but only for a few hours at most. It has been suggested that the solitary nature of the Tamaraw may be an adaptation to a forest environment, where large groups would prove to be a hindrance to movement. The only relatively lasting relationship between the animals is that between a mother and her calves.
As a rule, Tamaraws give birth to only a single offspring after a conception period of 276-315 days. They have an interbirth interval of two years. Tamaraws have a lifespan of about 20-25 years.
The Tamaraw is primarily a grazer, feeding on grasses, and sometimes, young bamboo shoots. It is also a picky eater; it will eat cogon and talahib only when these grasses are young and still soft.
Before Mindoro saw as influx of immigrants from all over the Philippines, Tamaraws were diurnal – they lived, moved and fed during the day. Today however, Tamaraws have become largely nocturnal – they now live and move during the night to escape humans who have encroached into their natural habitats.
Even today when the hunting of Tamaraw is strictly prohibited, poachers continue to target this animal. Just this year (2003), members of Bantay-Tamaraw arrested six people on March 30 and April 23 for hunting Tamaraws.
Humans have obviously done a lot of damage to Mindoro’s ecology in general, and to the Tamaraw’s survival in particular. However, humans can also do a lot to halt the decline of Mindoro’s environment and prevent the Tamaraw from becoming extinct.
THE TAMARAW CONSERVATION PROJECT
Several important steps have been undertaken towards conserving the Tamaraw. Republic Act 9147, or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act prohibits the hunting and sale of Tamaraws along with other endangered species.
There is also the Tamaraw Conservation Project. Established in 1979, the TCP has three main thrusts, 1) Wild Population & Habitat Management; 2) Captive Population Management; and 3) Community Assistance Program (CAP) and Information, Education and Communication Campaign (IEC).
The TCP achieved a major milestone in 1999 with the live birth of a Tamaraw in captivity. The calf was named Kali, which is short for “Kalibasib”, which in turn stands or Kalikasan Bagong Sibol or “Nature Newly Born”
The successful breeding of Kali, who is now four years old, spells hope for the endangered Tamaraw. The captive breeding of Tamaraws provides a reserve gene pool in case another epidemic or disaster threatens its natural population in the wild. However, a lot of work still needs to be done.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO SAVE THE TAMARAW?
The best strategy for ensuring the survival of the Tamaraw is ensuring that they continue to have a place to live in – and this means conserving the little that remains of Mindoro’s forests and grasslands. What is needed is for the people of Mindoro to take an active hand in protecting the forests of the island. Without the forests, there is no doubt that the Tamaraw will become extinct along with the other unique plants and animals of Mindoro.
Kingdom : Animalia
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Artiodactyla
Family : Bovidae
Subfamily : Bovinae
Genus : Bubalus
Species : Mindorensis