Western Mindoro Integrated Conservation Programme



The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Far Eastern University (FEU) are working with the Tau Buid to protect what they claim is the "biggest endangered species in the Philippines." The Tau Buid believes that the tamaraw is more than just a symbol that needs to be preserved:

“Kung ang mga munisipyo o mga tagalog ay sinasabing ang tamaraw ay isang simbolo ng aming lalawigan (Occidental Mindoro), at simbolo ng Pilipinas, sa amin naman po, sa mababaw na salita, ang tamaraw po ay nagsisilbing pundasyon ng aming tribo, ng aming tirahan. Malalim po iyon. Hindi po pwedeng ihayag sa ngayon,” Punong Tribo Fausto Novelozo said in a presentation at the FEU on November 20.

Novelozo expounded further for his siganon (non-tribesfolk) audience: “Ang pundasyon po mahalaga po iyon e. Ito po,” he said pointing to the floor. “Ito pong ating paaralan. Kung wala itong pundasyon, ano na lang ang mangyayari sa kanyang ibabaw? Diba guguho siya o magigiba siya? Ganoon po ang pagkakaunawa namin sa aming tamaraw at sa katutubo. Kapag nawala yung tamaraw, wala na rin ang katutubong Tau Buid. Ganoon po ang aming paniniwala.” The Tau Buid tribe, as Novelozo puts it, sees the tamaraw in almost a mystical light - "mahiwaga, isang alamat".


The Tamaraw in the Tau Buid way of life

The tamaraw is a wild mammal that lives solely in some parts of Occidental Mindoro. They are smaller, swifter, and more aggressive than their domesticated cousin, the carabao. Tamaraws prefer to be left alone and aren't very fond of humans, which hampers scientific observation of the creatures. However, the Tau Buid tribesfolks follow a way of life that respects and accommodates the tamaraws' existence.

"Yung paraan o sistema ng aming pang-araw-araw na pamumuhay, kasama na po doon yung aming pangangalaga (sa tamaraw) doon sa sistema na iyon, he explained."Kung baga, sa panghuhuli ng hayop pa lang, mayroong pana-panahon hindi yung tuloy-tuloy kahit tag-araw, kahit tag-ulan ay pwdeng manghuli ng ganoong bagay ng kalikasan o ng likas na yaman.

The Tau Buid has a hunting tradition that has been practiced for generations, and which is protected by Philippine law. Their system of hunting, Novelozo said, is very different from the modern gun-using methods of the Siganon.

For instance, they only hunt fish during the summer. In the rainy season, even if they come across fish in the nearby riverbanks, they will not pick it up because it is against their tradition.

“Sa ganoong mga sistema po ay napanatili po ng aming mga ninuno yung ano mang kalikasan hanggang sa ngayon.” In the same way, they follow a certain system when hunting for tamaraw or any other animal in their area.

In the same way, they follow a certain system when hunting for tamaraw or any other animal in their area.

In cooperation with the DENR and the local government, they have agreed to minimize the hunting for tamaraw since it is considered a critically endangered species.

"Hindi naman totally na hindi pwde kasi po sa tribo mayroong mga kultura o kaugalian na hindi pwedeng itigil yung panghuhuli ng mga hayop. (Ang hunting ng tamaraw) ay kasama sa kaugalian o sistema. Kaya lang dito nga po ay hindi yung makabagong sistema. Hindi katulad ng baril at iba pang panghuling makabago," he explained.


Scrap the tamaraw from the critically endagered species list

Around 12,000 years ago, the tamaraw herds roamed the across the island of Mindoro. But as of April 2013, the count was down to 345 heads. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified the tamaraw as critically endangered, the highest risk rating for any animal species. Efforts have been made by the DENR to recover the numbers of the tamaraw that can only be found in Occidental Mindoro.

In 2008, a report said that the tamaraw population has increased yearly by an average of 10 percent.

Dr. Arnel del Barrio, director of the Department of Agriculture's Philippine Carabao Center (DA-PCC) then said that the tamaraw population was counted at 263 in 2008 compared to only 175 heads in 2001.

In April of this year, that figure is up to 345. The tripartite agreement between the DENR, FEU, and WWF-Philippines aims to have this up to 600 by 2020 through the Tams2 program, thereby removing the tamaraws from the critically endangered species list. This will be done not necessarily by making efforts to breed more tamaraws, but to expand the survey area and add to the existing count.

Science-based research will also be made about tamaraws through non-invasive procedures. Four high-tech camera traps were installed in the habitat of the tamaraws. These sturdy, weather-resistant cameras can detect an animal's body heat. Once it picks up a heat signature, it takes a photo.

“The tamaraw is also a shy animal, and so it's hard to study the behavior of the tamaraw. I think we have not seen, for instance, how a tamaraw calf is born. We have not seen how they breed,” said Dr. Michael Alba, FEU President.

Among the future plans will be to study the DNA of the tamaraws, and see how closely related they are to other species. This study will also tell us if the tamaraw has interbred with other species.

To value the environment as you value yourself.

The arrival of the Siganon in their area is what led to the depletion not just of the tamaraws, but of “kalikasan” in general, Novelozo said.

“Dahil po sa pagdami rin ng mga tagalog sa aming probinsya, yun po yung nakadagdag ng pagkaubos o madaling pagkaubos ng anumang uri ng kalikasan: ito man ay kagubatan, isda, ibon, baboy damo, usa, tamaraw, magmula po ito noong pagdating nung mga tagalog o yung mga tinatawag naming siganon sa aming lalawigan, dito po nagsimula yung unti-unting pagkaubos (ng kalikasan),” he said.

“Kung baga, sige na lang nang sige. Putol na lang nang putol, kuha na lang nang kuha, wala nang halaga yung kalikasan sa kanila.”

To value to environment as we value our lives is what Novelozo said everyone should do.

“Ito po ay personal ko na pananaw, pero malapit po ito sa katotohanan. Yung mga nangyayari pong kalamidad sa iba't ibang lugar ng ating Pilipinas, ng ating mundo, ito po ay may kaugnayan sa pagkaubos ng ating kalikasan sa iba't ibang bahagi din ng ating mundo at Pilipinas.”

Just like extreme weather conditions, the extinction of the tamaraw doesn't just mean the loss of a species. It will be evidence of a suffering environment. It might lead to an imbalance of an ecosystem that will soon affect humankind.

Novelozo describes it in a simple, but mystical way:

“Ang tamaraw po sa amin ay mahiwaga, isang alamat. Kapag nawala ang tamaraw, mayroong mangyayaring kalamidad sa aming lalawigan o sa buong Pilipinas. Ang panawagan ko po sana magtulungan tayo. Magtulungan po na pangalagaan natin ang ating kalikasan. Magkaroon po tayo ng malasakit sa kalikasan sa buong Pilipinas.”