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Tamaraws increasing in number, still ‘critically endangered’

Rizal, Occidental Mindoro—The country’s largest wild land mammal, the tamaraw, is consistently increasing in number, officials of the government’s Tamaraw Conservation Program have announced.

The TCP, however, said that despite the success in the government-led conservation campaign, the tamaraw (bubalus mindorensis), is still listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as “critically endangered” because the safe level for animal species to survive is “not less than 500 heads.”

Taming a tamaraw. A science pupil gives some grass to Kalibasib, a 16-year-old captive tamaraw in Occidental Mindoro. ROBERT EVORA
From 154 bull heads in year 2000 where the conservation program started, the 2015 count is 405 bulls. The 2015 figure represents an increase of 23 heads or 16 percent from the 2013-2014 count of 382 heads or “young recruits” (calves).

The count was 327 heads in 2011 and 345 heads in 2012.

The tamaraws now roam freely in the wilds of the vast mountainous grasslands of the 106,000-hectare Mount Baco-Mt. Iglit National Park. It straddles eight southern municipalities of Oriental Mindoro and Occidental Mindoro.

Forester Rodel M. Boyles, TCP coordinator, said their counting was accurate since the TCP used two methods in head counting, the Intensive Concentration Count and the Simultaneous Multi-Vantage Point Count. “We also use GPS [global positioning system] in monitoring movements of the tamaraws,” he said. 

But, he added that the TCP is not resting on the success of the government-led conservation program.

“There is still much left to be desired in our campaign because there are still threats to the animal’s survival,” Boyles said in front of science students and teachers from Oriental Mindoro, headed by Environmental and Natural Resources officer Maximino Jumig, who toured the 208-hectare Tamaraw Gene Pool farm last Friday.

The field visit is part of the island-wide information dissemination campaign among the youths of the two Mindoro provinces that coincides with the joint celebration of the Tamaraw Month this October.

The visitors told TCP officials this is the first time they have seen a tamaraw.

“Kalibasib,” a 16-year-old male tamaraw, is the first tamaraw born in captivity on June 24, 1999. He is the only survivor of 20 captive tamaraws who were raised and later died from several causes, including diseases and poaching several years ago.

“Kalibasib,” who is blind on his left eye, is now a lonely figure inside the pool since his mother, “Mimi,” and 19 others died several years ago. He now appears to be tamed or domesticated, like a carabao, to live with or near people or accustomed as a pet.

“It could be the result of his 16 years of confinement, since his birth, inside the gene pool,” Danilo Z. Roca, TCP field operations officer, said.

“Kalibasib” moves closer to visitors when motioned to come. Students then fed the animal with rainer grass brought and planted by forestry students from the University of the Philippines at Los Banos. Like a domesticated carabao, the bull takes through his mouth the grass and chew it like a bubble gum.

Environmental groups have asked the TCP to release the captive Tamaraw to the wilds since it is his natural habitat not the fenced gene pool. However, Roca said, “it could not give in or grant their appeals since releasing ‘Kalibasib’ to his freedom in the wilds is tantamount to putting him dangerously in harm’s way.”

“The reason is, his freedom is suicidal that could be more fatal to him, since ‘Kalibasib’ is not used to be ferocious like the others born in the wilds. He might be attacked by his fellow bulls or by poachers since ‘Kalibasib’ behaves now like a tamed farm buffalo,” Roca told The Standard.

Topics: Tamaraw Conservation Program , Tamaraws , endangered
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