The Tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis), or Mindoro Dwarf Buffalo, is solely endemic to the island of Mindoro (9,735 km²). It is the only wild cattle species living in the Philippine archipelago. It is a rather solitary animal weighting up to 300 kg and measuring only about 1m high. Originally widespread across the island, the Tamaraw has suffered from heavy hunting and continued habitat destruction during the last century. The species has gradually been confined within the mountainous interior of the island. Its population has shrunk from 10 000 in 1900 to no more than 400 animals nowadays. Despite its protected status and conservation efforts from local institutions, the Tamaraw seems to be more and more limited to the well monitored "core zone", a 16 000 hectare area, within Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park. This "core zone" is supposedly the last viable refuge of the species. It is listed as Critically Endangered on the Red list of the IUCN.
The current homerange of the Tamaraw stretches over the ancestral land of the mangyans indigenous communities who are the original inhabitants of the island. Within the protected area, mangyans preserve a traditional lifestyle based on hunting and slash and burn agriculture. Both Tamaraw and mangyans depend on the preservation of the natural environment for their survival. The future of the species is therefore inherently linked to these communities.
Noé Conservation, a French association aiming at conserving biodiversity, has conducted seven exploration missions during the dry seasons (January to May) between 2012 and 2014 to assess the homerange of Tamaraw. Nearly 60 000 hectares of under-surveyed or even un-explored areas within and around the Park have been covered. These missions have also helped gather crucial information on the current situation regarding the prevailing natural habitats and socio-cultural contexts.
Results show that Tamaraw is progressively vanishing from all areas where it was still reported less than 20 years in and around the Park. Poaching activities from lowlander mindorenos on other species in the area are much more important than initially anticipated and may cause severe disturbance to Tamaraw. Despite complains from mangyan tribal leaders against these repeated intrusions on their ancestral lands, local institutions do not yet address this issue. In addition, traditional hunting methods by indigenous people, especially non-selective traps such as snare trap and pitfall trap, are a direct threat to Tamaraw even if the species is not directly targeted. Park's rangers have reported several injured animals during the field activities. Last but not least, the Park offers limited suitable habitats for the species. Slash and burn agriculture is the main anthropogenic practice structuring the natural environment in mid elevation areas occupied by indigenous peoples. It creates a mosaic of habitats that could provide attractive places for wildlife. However, the impact of such land use practice is assumed to have reached a threshold due to the continuous growth of the mangyan population. This practice becomes a hindrance for Tamaraw survival and detrimental for the environment.
According to these preliminary results, one can assume that the network of suitable habitats for Tamaraw is currently shrinking on the whole area of investigation. Human disturbance pushes animals to concentrate within the core zone, the last known safety area for the species. According to the last survey conducted in April 2014, the core zone shelters nearly 400 animals. This amount is twice more than in 2004 but contrasts drastically with the absence of the species elsewhere. These findings highlight that the future of the species requires further efforts beyond the limits of the actual core zone. It is recommended to (1) cope with the dramatic lack of law enforcement as well as to (2) seek for innovative actions and integrated management solutions with respect to the rights and subsistence needs of the mangyan population.
The project will now focus on these issues while gathering more information on the ecology and distribution of the species.
Project 12255240 location - Philippines, Asia