People used to call Mindoro as the "Land of the
Tamaraws". About 10,000 heads of these unique pygmy water buffalos
were roaming around the island-province of Mindoro in the 1900s. But
that was a century ago. Today, the Tamaraws in the province are in danger
of extinction, and Mindoro might lose the symbol that it once proudly
introduced to the world.
The Tamaraw, scientifically known as Bubalus mindorensis, is endemic
to Mindoro. Not a single Tamaraw has ever been sighted or reported on
other islands. Belonging to the family of buffalos, the same categorical
group of the Philippine carabao, the Tamaraw is the largest endangered
land animal in the Philippines today. In 1996, the International Union
for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed it as one of the ten most
endangered species in the world.
First studied by Dr. Pierre Heude in 1888, the Tamaraw is a unique animal
slightly smaller than the common carabao (Asian water buffalo). It measures
between five to six feet in length and weighs about 300 kilogram. Its
short, glossy coat is dark brown to grayish black in color. A newly
born Tamaraw has a light reddish-brown skin, which turns into slate
gray once it reaches 3 ½ years old.
Its bulky body and short legs gives it a squat appearance. Its agility
and strong legs enable the Tamaraw to push through dense jungle and
climb steep mountains. While it shares many similarities with the carabao,
the Tamaraw is most noted for its horns, which grow straight upward
with a "V" form, unlike the horns of the carabao, which take
a curved shape. The Tamaraw's horns grow about 14 to 20 inches long.
A common Tamaraw lives between 20 to 25 years. Many people call it wild
and aggressive, which is partly the reason why it has been a favorite
prey of adventurous hunters. This led the Tamaraw to move further from
human settlements into the dense forests. Already a solitary creature,
the Tamaraw became nocturnal too, following the encroachment and disturbance
caused by humans during the day.
A century ago, a huge number of Tamaraws populate most parts of Mindoro,
from near the sea to the mountains. But unabated hunting, coupled by
the destruction of the animals' natural habitat drove the remaining
population to a few remote areas in the mountains. An ordinary Tamaraw
spends most of its time resting in dense forest, although feeding occurs
primarily in open meadows. It prefers to move along the rivers and stay
longer in marshy areas for wallowing. It lives on grass, fallen fruits,
bamboo shoots, and aquatic vegetation.
The population of the Tamaraws greatly diminished after human settlements
flourished in Mindoro Island at the turn of the century. The residents
hunted the Tamaraw for food and livelihood. The plunder of Mindoro wildlife
worsened with the entry of hunters and poachers seeking adventure. It
was reported that rich hunters with automatic weapons flew from Manila
to Mindoro in helicopters during the 1960's and 1970's to conquer the
wild Tamaraws. They wanted the heads of the Tamaraws as their trophies.
By 1996, the presence of Tamaraws was reported in only three areas:
Mt. Iglit, Mt. Calavite, and the vicinity of the Sablayon Penal Settlement.
From 10,000 heads in the 1900's, the population went down to 369 heads
in the late 1980's. Today, reports say there are as few as 20 heads
roaming in the wild.
At present, efforts are being made to maintain, if not increase the
remaining population of the Tamaraws. The lack of budget, however, hampers
such efforts. Unless considered urgent and significant, these efforts
might be too late to save one of the country's greatest wealth. The
government and the Filipino people have to realize that the existence
of the Tamaraw, which is found only in the Philippines, is a heritage
we owe to the next generation.