Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Let's not allow the tamaraw to become extinct

Dr Abe V Rotor 

I am posting this article to appeal to viewers/readers to help in the campaign of conserving the tamaraw, so with other threatened and endangered species.
Skeleton of a Tamaraw, Museum of Natural History, UPLB Laguna

The tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis) or Mindoro Dwarf Buffalo is a small hoofed mammal belonging to the family Bovidae. It is endemic to the island of Mindoro in the Philippines and is the only endemic Philippine bovine.

Contrary to common belief and past classification, the tamaraw is not a subspecies of the local carabao, which is only slightly larger, or the common water buffalo. In contrast to the carabao, it has a number of distinguishing characteristics: it is slightly hairier, has light markings on its face, is not gregarious, and has shorter horns that are somewhat V-shaped. It is the largest native terrestrial mammal in the country.

This means that the carabao and tamaraw, though of different lineages, undoubtedly share a common ancestor, together with other buffaloes in Asia and some in different parts of the world. Generally, plant and animal species evolved from common stocks, sometimes called missing links, which scientists find them extremely difficult to find and conclude with concrete evidences.

When Charles Darwin found out that finches vary from island to island in the Galapagos group of islands on the equatorial eastern coast of South America, he was in effect telling to the scientific community of an evolutionary phenomenon called speciation - the formation of species. Because it is a very slow and indeterminate process at that, scientists were baffled by the question, "When is a new species truly a species, and not just a variety or breed of its parent species?"

What I learned from my professor, the famous Dr Deogracias Villadolid who introduced tilapia into the Philippines in the fifties, is that, when the species in question is capable of interbreeding to make a population, and on the other hand, it is no longer capable of breeding with its original stock or parent species - and those from parallel lines emanating from the same stock. Dr Villadolid emphasized that this criterion is reliable, particularly if supported by distinct morphological deviation, and change in ecological distribution.

The tamaraw is no doubt a product of speciation. The island of Mindoro is its original home and still its natural habitat today, the forested areas and near open-canopied glades. Since humans settled in the island and subsequent destruction of the forest they made, the tamaraw population has drastically declined with a few dozens left today in the wild. This is the same situation the wild buffaloes or bisons of the Prairies of North America faced until they were
saved from extinction in the last hour.

Tamaraws graze on grasses which include cogon (Imperata cylindrica) and talahib (Saccharum spontaneum), which abound on wastelands. They also feed on young bamboo shoots (labong). They live for 20 to 25 years. Only one offspring is produced a year after a gestation period of about 300 days, with birth interval of two years, although one female was once sighted with three juveniles. The calf stays for 2 to 4 years with its mother before becoming independent.

Let's help conserve the highly endangered tamaraw, proudly our own.

Credit: Museum of Natural History UPLB, Marlo Rotor for the photo. and Wikipedia

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