Tamaraw
(Bubalus mindorensis)

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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.

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