Small infrared cameras in Mindoro Occidental have captured images of Bubalus mindorensis (tamaraw), the world’s rarest buffalo species and the Philippines’ largest endemic land animal, the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) said.The camera traps allow researchers to study the habits of these animals, and are part of "Tams-2," a public-private partnership initiative seeking to double wild Tamaraw numbers from 300 to 600 by 2020.
“Mindoro is one of the seven distinct bio-geographical zones of the country. Occidental Mindoro alone hosts two extremely productive natural zones – the Iglit-Baco mountain range and Apo Reef,” said WWF-Philippines Vice-chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan.
Tan said the WWF and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources are using the tamaraw as a "rallying icon" to revitalize the mountains that in turn irrigate Mindoro's rice fields.
"Healthy rivers also translate to healthy coasts – crucial in sustaining the productivity of the reefs that generate vast amounts of seafood,” Tan added.
WWF Philippines said the Tamaraw is considered a species "too elusive and dangerous to approach."
"Only about 350 of the dwarf buffalo are thought to remain, prompting the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to classify them as critically endangered – one precarious step above extinction," it added.
According to the WWF, the camouflaged boxlike, weatherproof Reconyx and Bushnell camera traps automatically shoot stills and videos to a maximum range of 30 meters.
Four such traps were recently deployed by Dr. Brent Stewart of the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI).
Stewart helps WWF Philippines study Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus) in Donsol, Sorsogon.
Figures from the Tamaraw Conservation Programme said some 10,000 Tamaraw once roamed Mindoro in the 1900s, but an outbreak of Rinderpest in the 1930s, widespread land clearing, and trophy hunting rendered them nearly extinct.
TCP Head and Mts. Iglit-Baco Protected Area Superintendent Rodel Boyles said the population fell to less than 100 heads by 1969, with the speceies "holding out atop the grassy slopes and forest patches of Mts. Iglit, Baco, Aruyan and Calavite.”
WWF partnered with the Far Eastern University (FEU), DENR, TCP Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI), the Occidental Mindoro local government, and the indigenous Tawbuid Mangyan inhabitants of Iglit-Baco mountains.
The partnership aims to double wild Tamaraw numbers from 300 to 600 by 2020, and to support the conservation of both the tamaraw and its mountain habitats.
With local government conservation efforts, the population has recovered to 345 heads as of April 2013, WWF said.
Meanwhile, the WWF, FEU and the DENR’s Western Mindoro Integrated Conservation Program are going hand in hand with Tamaraw research and improved park management initiatives.
Stewart pointed out science-based action spurs effective conservation.
“These groundbreaking images give us crucial insights into the movements and numbers of this highly-secretive buffalo. When we know where they are, we’ll know which areas to protect,” he said. — TJD, GMA News