Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tamaraw - Endangered Philippine Endemic Animal

Dr Abe V Rotor

Tamaraw (Anoa mindorensis) heifer in captivity, and skeleton of adult male at the Museum of Natural History, UPLB, Laguna.

The Philippines claims two endemic animals, now in the verge of extinction - the Philippine Eagle, formerly monkey eating eagle which ranks among the biggest birds in the world; and the tamaraw, a rare species of buffalo which could not fit into any classification within the family of buffaloes in the world.

And it is only on the island of Mindoro where the tamaraw is found, freely living in the wilderness by the thousands many years ago. Now an estimated number of 300 survive as forests are cleared, and intrusion into their habitats continues.

But what decimated the tamaraw population was a livestock epidemic - rinderpest - in the 1930s which was carried by cattle that were introduced into the island by settlers. And with the introduction of hunting rifles, coupled by liberal hunting regulations, the number of tamaraws further declined.

Since then the population of this species which split thousands of years ago from a mother genetic stock through an evolutionary process called speciation (formation of a species), never recovered to a sustainable level.

Today there are few options left to save the species. Save the Tamaraw movement is basically aimed at conserving the remaining natural habitat of the tamaraw in Mindoro island. The second is through an assisted breeding program, patterned after the program that saved the American Bison from extinction in the later part of the 19th century. A number of endangered species all over the world were saved in the last hour, ironically by man himself - the hunter and the savior.

Toyota adopted the animal, christening its utility vehicle which is the most successful economy car of its class in the world - Toyota Tamaraw. Coincidentally it is in Mindoro island where the last Japanese soldier in World War II lived as a straggler, emerging out of his hiding more than twenty years after Japan's surrendered in 1945. Apparently he had learned to live with the roaming tamaraws, aware of their wild and ferocious nature. The natives of the island, the Mangans, fear and respect this beast, to the point of revering it.

And speaking of reverence for life, an albino tamaraw - if there is one - (there is an albino carabao) could be more than mere fancy. It could have been a center of awe and respect that helped preserve the species through generations, the same way the white elephant was revered in Asia. Or the white reindeer in the tundra. Or the white bull of Greek mythology which King Mino of Crete received from the gods, Unfortunately he failed to obey their wish, and as a punishment was given a son - a minotaur, a monster that is half-man and half-bull.

Of course legends are only stories by a fireplace. Nonetheless they make us realize some truths in them. Take the case of the American Indian civilization which lasted hundreds of years on the prairies of North America. The bison was regarded a sacred animal. Without the bison there would not have been any civilization in the middle of a continent.

It proved to be correct. It was only when the early pioneers of America were able to decimate the bison population that the natives surrendered their lands - and their culture.

Let us help save the tamaraw, among other species in the endangered list.

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