MANILA, OCTOBER 30, 2003 (STAR) By Benny G. Enriquez - In an effort to protect the remaining population of tamaraw found only in the island of Mindoro, the DENR with the Association of Mindoreños, Inc. (TAMS) link arms to save this endangered animals from extinction.

A memorandum of agreement (MOA) was recently signed between DENR and TAMS, to formalize their partnership in strengthening the current conservation and protection efforts for the tamaraws. The signing also forms part of the ongoing celebration of October as Tamaraw Month; dubbed Tamaraw; "Sagisag at Dangal ng Mindoro, Atin ‘To," declared by President Arroyo through Proclamation No. 273.

Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Elisea G. Gozun stressed the need to continue the conservation efforts for the species and initiate measures that will promote public involvement and participation towards its recovery. "We need to involve all Mindoreños in this undertaking with whom the fate of the tamaraw depends. We also comment the effort of TAMS in helping us with our conservation activities for this endemic species," Gozun said.

The tamaraw (Babalus mindorensis) is the largest land animal in the Philippines. It is also known as dwarf water buffalo and is internationally recognized as one of the most endangered animals in the world. Once considered the "lord" of the Mindoro jungle plains numbering about 10,000 heads two decades ago, the tamaraws almost disappeared due to an outbreak of the rinderpest in the 30’s. By the 70’s no more than 100 or even less were believed to have been surviving. From 2000 to 2003, however, a gradual increase in the tamaraw population has been reported. According to DENR – Protected and Wildlife Bureau, the protection of the species and other conservation activities are now reaping positive results.

Recovery Of Tamaraw

The survival of tamaraws is certain with the success of the pioneering work of TCP, a captive – breeding program, which operates a 280-hectare Tamaraw Gene Pool Farm in Manoot, Rizal, Occidental Mindoro.

The farm’s breeding program began 1982 which, until 1994, captured a total of 20 heads that were maintained for breeding purposes. To date, the farm maintains only three tamaraws with one female named "Mimi" and two bulls, "Charlie" and "Dabu."

On June 24, 1999, after several attempts to carry to full-term the pregnancies of the farm’s its female stock, the farm had its first successful birth with the coming of "Kalbasib" which was not released into the wild and is being maintained at the farm.

Shift to habitat protection

Despite the farm’s primary function as the tamaraw’s breeding facility, that role has taken a back seat while the farm has become an effective venue for research and public education on tamaraw conservation.

In 1999, the TCP’s program shifted its focus on strengthening its other program component: habitat protection. Such move was bolstered by field sightings indicating a rise in the tamaraw population in the wild, especially in the Occidental side of Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park where most of their linkages with communities are concentrated precisely to educate and mobilize the residents on the need to protect the tamaraw and its habitat.

A census made in 2000 showed that there were 154 tamaraws in the area. This rose to 187 in 2001, and then reached 253 in 2002. The latest official count, according to TCP senior officer Anson M. Tagtag, is 261 although the figure could even exceed 300 if reported loose sightings in the northern side of the Iglit Baco National Park are taken in.

He also said that simulating the real habitat of the tamaraw inside the farm was a major challenge given the program’s limited resources but was quick to say that that it is still captive breeding that remains the farm’s primary objective. "At the very least, we want to secure the viability of the farm as a stable source for a fallback population for the tamaraw in case a catastrophe like what happened in the 30’s which nearly wiped out the tamaraw population," Tagtag added noting that this would require major facility improvements and capture of new breeder stock.

Despite the increase over a four-year period, TCP National Coordinator Josefina de Leon says that 261 is still halfway short of what they want to see. "The latest count of 261 individuals is still far from the level of at least 500 mature individuals where we can consider that the tamaraw is safe from immediate extinction," de Leon an expert in wildlife conservation, stressed.

Tamaraw Population

De Leon explained that the focus given to habitat protection entails sustained public awareness campaign within the communities that have access to the tamaraws’ habitat and rigorous efforts to win the involve of the residents in protection efforts. The identified habitat of the tamaraw covers some 25,000 hectares within the Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park and the Aruyan-Sablayan Tamaraw reservation.

"We have Bantay Tamaraw Teams, which are composed mostly of residents, that man the entry exit points inside the national park to discourage the entry of poachers," de Leon said. She also bared that plans are underway that will expand their research and habitat protection activities in the northern side of Mindoro that support population of the tamaraw namely Mt. Calavite, Mt. Halcon, and Mt. Eagle Pass.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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