hen the Tamaraw Gene Pool Farm (GPF) was established in 1980 in Manoot, Rizal in the province of Occidental Mindoro, its main purpose was to serve as an ex-situ (off-site) breeding facility for the tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis).
The captive breeding program, however, proved to be an almost barren attempt. From 20 captured heads, only one tamaraw was produced - “Kalibasib”, an acronym for “Kalikasan Bagong Sibol” (nature newly sprung), born on June 24, 1999. At present, “Kali”, as he is more fondly known, lives alone in the facility since his mother “Mimi” died of old age in August 2011.
The seeming failure to breed tamaraw in captivity does not mean, however, that hope is lost for this noble animal. The Tamaraw Conservation Program (TCP) does not solely consist of the GPF. Thus, rather than have the facility go to waste, the farm will be converted into the “Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation, Research and Education Center”.
The tamaraw will still be the “star attraction”, with part of the facility to be retained for research and captive breeding purposes, and as a showcase of the bovine’s typical habitat, it will also act as a repository to various wildlife species found in Mindoro, especially those confiscated or apprehended from illegal traders and owners. Mindoro island, after all, is home to many endemic species such as the Mindoro Tarictic Hornbill (Penelopides mindorensis); the Mindoro Bleeding-heart pigeon (Gallicolumba platenae); and the Mindoro pine (Pinus insularis). The center can also be transformed into an ecotourism destination that would serve to educate the public about biodiversity conservation.
The biggest population of tamaraw can be found in the grasslands of Mts. Iglit-Baco National Park (MIBNP), about 90 per cent of which is in Occidental Mindoro. The latest tamaraw count, conducted in April 2012, yielded 327 heads in the wild.
Rodel Boyles, the Protected Area Superintendent (PASu) of the MIBNP and concurrent project manager of the TCP, says that this number is higher than the 274 registered in 2011, and the highest since the annual tamaraw count began in 2000.
Tamaraws are threatened mainly due to habitat destruction and hunting. This has forced the animal to move further inland, into denser vegetation, making them harder to monitor. While they usually forage on grass, they are now thriving on different forms of vegetation in secondary forests.
The MIBNP, also an ASEAN Heritage Park, is home to two of seven indigenous Mangyan tribes, who have their own beliefs on how to utilize the resources within the park. “Their hunting is protected under the law,” Boyles says. Thus, he engages them in constant dialogue on floral and faunal conservation efforts within the MIBNP.
Boyles also reports that the program has received a big boost from potential partners for further research on the tamaraw, to fill in the information gaps. One of the partners is the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) of the Department of Agriculture. The tamaraw, after all, is a much smaller relative of the carabao (Bubalus bubalis carabensis) that commonly dots the Philippine countryside.
“The PCC has the expertise to study the endoparasite load which can possibly cause a tamaraw’s death or illness, and assess the health of the habitat for the tamaraw to survive, which is essential in conservation planning,” he explains.
Information is key
For now, the TCP continues to conduct information drives to expand awareness on the tamaraw. An important advocacy target is the local government units (LGUs) which provide legislative and financial support to conservation and protection programs. These include issuance of local ordinances, as well as funding for maintenance of roads that would make the GPF accessible.
As DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje said, “There is a need to heighten awareness on a national level that the tamaraw, despite being endemic and indigenous to the island of Mindoro, is actually a biological heritage for all Filipinos. We should therefore all do our share in ensuring its continued survival for future generations.”
Although information campaign is a year-round activity, the bulk of the activities are conducted during October of every year, which Presidential Proclamation No. 273 issued in 2002 declared as the “Special Month for the Conservation and Protection of the Tamaraw in Mindoro.”
The provinces of Occidental and Oriental Mindoro usher in the month with motorcade and other forms of fanfare. Students of the Far Eastern University, whose icon is the tamaraw, in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for Nature-Philippines, launched this October the “Tams-2” campaign. The “Tamaraw Times Two by 2020” program has the ambitious goal of doubling the number of tamaraws from 300 to 600 by the year 2020.
The DENR, through its field offices in the MIMAROPA Region and Occidental Mindoro, regularly conduct activities for students such as quiz bee, poster-making contest, and Biodiversity Day Camp held at the GPF site to allow the participants to have a better understanding and appreciation of the animal and its habitat.
Last Oct. 28, the DENR also held its first ever “Takbo para sa Tamaraw,” a fun run in Quezon City to raise public awareness on the tamaraw. More than 600 participants, composed of students, government employees, and running enthusiasts from the private sector joined to raise funds, particularly for the repair of the hanging bridge crossing the Busuanga River to the farm.
Aside from books and other educational materials, the public knows the tamaraw as symbol on a boy scout’s neckerchief. It is hoped, that like the Philippine Eagle that soars as king of the Philippine skies, the tamaraw will also run more freely as king of Mindoro’s mountains.