OCTOBER is “Special Month for the Conservation and Protection of the Tamaraw in Mindoro”. This is by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 273 issued in 2002.

The Tamaraw is endemic to the Philippines. Once believed to roam the island of Luzon, they can only be found in the wild in Mindoro. It is said to be one of the rarest mammals in existence. It is not however our national animal. Neither is the carabao. Officially there is no national animal.

The Tamaraw or Mindoro dwarf buffalo (Bubalus mindorensis), is not a subspecies of the local carabao or water buffalo. It has shorter, V-shaped horns. It is considered a critically endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It has been in the critically endangered list since the year 2000. They are threatened mainly due to habitat destruction and hunting for food. Their shrinking habitat forced them move further inland into the thick forest.

There’s good news. Last October 2, I read in the papers that up to 30 tamaraws were spotted grazing again on Mt. Gimparay in Naujan town, after decades of not being sighted in this part of Oriental Mindoro province. The last published record of tamaraw sighting in the province was in Catuiran River in 1887 or 131 years ago.

According to the DENR website, the tamaraw population was estimated to be 10,000 in the early 1900s but because of a rinderpest outbreak in the 1930s, the figure declined drastically. The introduction of non-native cattle in the island caused a cattle plague epidemic on the tamaraw population. Today the biggest number was recorded at the Mt. Iglit-Baco National Park in Occidental Mindoro. The 2018 annual tamaraw count held there in April recorded a population of 523. The Mounts Iglit–Baco National Park is a protected area and an ASEAN Heritage Park.

There are attempts to save and propagate the Tamaraw. A facility called Tamaraw Gene Pool Farm (GPF) was established in 1980 in Manoot, Rizal in the province of Occidental Mindoro to serve as an off-site breeding facility. The captive breeding program, however, was unsuccessful. From 20 captured heads, only one tamaraw was produced. The facility was converted into the “Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation, Research and Education Center, with the tamaraw as the main attraction. In 2001, Republic Act 9147, or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act was enacted to protect the tamaraw and other endemic species from hunting and sale.

Part of the efforts to conserve the tamaraw is to make the public aware of it. An image of the animal is found on the 1980-to-early-1990 version of the one-peso coins. In the private sector, Far Eastern University (FEU) adopted the Tamaraw as its mascot. The school also partnered with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources to conserve and protect it.

In the 1970s Toyota Motors built the popular Tamaraw Asian Utility Vehicle and later the Tamaraw FX. It also named its basketball team Toyota Tamaraws, my favorite team.