Journey to doubling the tamaraws

HOW does one appreciate the beauty of a beast? For a group of student volunteers from Far Eastern University, it is by understanding the history and existence of their university’s symbol--the tamaraw--and that they were able to recognize the relevance of this wild animal. This endeavor eventually put the tamaraw in a different perspective and inspired a campaign towards its protection.

The tamaraw or ‘dwarf forest buffalo’ can only be found in the Philippines, particularly in the island of Mindoro. It may not be the most attractive or elegant among animals but the tamaraw has a perfect V-shaped horn. It is intelligent, independent and aggressive. It is also protective of its partner and territory.

These endemic beasts lived abundantly throughout the vast land of Mindoro during the 1900s, but when man came to settle and occupy the island, the population of the tamaraws started to decline. Their numbers drastically dropped in the 1930s, when Mindoro was hit by the rinderpest or cattle plague. The tamaraw was among the livestock affected by this animal disease. The tamaraws also became victims of illegal hunting and trade of animal meat among the locals in Mindoro.

It was alarming that by the 1960s, these endemic beasts were close to extinction. In 1969, it was estimated that there were less than 100 animals left, putting the tamaraw in the critically endangered list of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Animals having less than 250 mature individuals and with 95% of the species found in one sub-population are included in this classification.

To promote the conservation and protection of the tamaraws, October was declared as the Special Month for the Tamaraw in 2002. Under the Presidential Proclamation 273 which states to “conserve, protect and develop the country’s wildlife resources, especially the endemic species, for the benefit of the present and future generations,”[1] the tamaraw was also declared a source of national heritage and pride.

The less than 5,000 hectares of Mount Iglit-Baco in Mindoro was converted into a National Park to provide a safe sanctuary for the tamaraws. Here, the endemic beasts are free to roam and breed naturally.

Far Eastern University (FEU) launched its own efforts to protect the tamaraws in 2005. First was the ​​‘Save-The-Tamaraw-Project,’ which was organized by a group of FEU student volunteers. The project is guided by the objective to raise awareness in securing the continuous and stable existence of tamaraws in Mindoro. A documentary video called “Tamaraw Quest” was produced, capturing the state, habitat and the reason for the gradual extinction of the animal.

The most pivotal year in the road to tamaraw conservation happened in 2012 when FEU, Department of Environment Resources (DENR) found an ally in World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Philippines). The strengthened partnership resulted in the launch of Project “TAMS-2” or Tamaraw Times Two, which aims to double the number of tamaraws from then 300 to 600 by 2020.

In order to achieve this goal, state-of-the-art camera traps were installed in the tamaraw reserve to study the activity patterns of the tamaraw. Park management was also improved by assigning different park rangers in the areas where the tamaraws were frequently spotted. Biodiversity research initiatives were reinforced with the construction of a conservation station which eventually became an eco-tourism attraction.

The entire FEU community became active supporters and advocates of this campaign. FEU students join in the annual tamaraw count through the university’s Community Extension Services and National Service Training Program (CES-NESTP) curriculum, while sustainable fund-generating projects were created to support the program’s advocacy efforts.

Moving outside its institution, FEU touched base with the reclusive, forest-dwelling Taw’Buid people, to change their view of the tamaraws. FEU volunteers, through the TAMS-2 campaign, taught the indigenous community to care for the tamaraws and help them gradually end their tradition of killing these endangered beasts.

Eventually, the Taw’Buid tribesfolk became partners of FEU in protecting the tamaraws. They are natural and excellent trackers that can easily spy on poachers who hunt and kill tamaraws. Their bush craft and knowledge of the terrain of Mount Iglit-Baco make them particularly effective park rangers, and are able to operate under any condition.

To date, there are already 413 tamaraws. With collaboration and combined conservation efforts, there is hope that by 2020, the number of tamaraws will reach the 600 goal. (PR)


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