Occidental Mindoro, Philippines – BIOFIN Philippines brought together influential journalists and social media personalities in the country and sent them into the forest for three days to raise awareness of the plight of the critically endangered Tamaraws and mobilize resources for the species protection.
State of the Tamaraws
October is designated as the special month for the conservation and protection of Tamaraws in Mindoro by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 273, series of 2002. The Tamaraws (Bubalus mindorensis), which are endemic to Mindoro, are classified as a critically endangered species under IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The slopes of Mts. Iglit-Baco Natural Park (MIBNP) serve as the Tamaraws’ natural habitat. Back in the early 1900s, its population was estimated to be around 10,000. By the 1950s, the species was on the brink of dropping to around 200-250 due to a rinderpest outbreak of the 1930s. While the latest counts show an increasing trend, the population of Tamaraws is still significantly low at 523 heads as of April 2018.
Habitat loss, hunting, and poaching are the main threats to the Tamaraws, according to Maria Teresita, David, Jr., coordinator of the Tamaraw Conservation Program (TCP) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Protecting the Tamaraws
TCP’s main objective is to protect the remaining population of Tamaraws within MIBNP, while keeping in harmony with several tribes called the Mangyans living within the park. The Mangyans depend on natural resources within the park for their livelihoods, employing traditional practices, including hunting the Tamaraws for food.
TCP ensures that there is a continuous dialogue with the Mangyans to include them in the effort to protect the Tamaraws and conserve MIBNP. Despite having limited resources and malfunctioning patrolling equipment to guard the 2,500-hectare strict protection zone, TCP’s dedicated team of a mere 26 rangers work hard to keep the Tamaraws safe from hunters and poachers.
Ensuring the safety of the Tamaraws means that rangers have to guard their posts at MIBNP and be away from their families for about a month at a time. Receiving threats and dodging bullets from hunters are all part of their job. Even without stable employment, rangers wholeheartedly perform their jobs without any health and security benefits. While the population count of Tamaraws has been steadily increasing in the past few years, thanks to TCP’s efforts, TCP is yet to receive sufficient funding for its operations.
For this year’s Tamaraw Month Celebration, which is held annually by TCP, BIOFIN co-organized the second Biodiversity Camp (BioCamp). BioCamp immerses participants in the study of the Tamaraws in the wild and their natural habitat. This year’s three-day BioCamp involved hiking and traversing Mt. Magawang, which offers a view of the MIBNP.
To generate enthusiasm and raise awareness of the need to raise financing for the protection of the Tamaraws, travel enthusiasts who are journalists and known social media influencers at the same time were tapped as ‘BioCampers’. These enthusiasts are credible and experts in their fields with huge followings on social media – Jes Aznar of New York Times, Getty Images and Everyday Philippines; Gregg Yan of Best Alternatives; Celine Murillo of The Poor Traveler; Gab Mejia, WWF National Youth Council and Nikon Philippines ambassador; travel enthusiasts Nella Lomotan and Mitch de Juan; Kim Lim of Sunny16 Lab; Bernard Magcarang and Maricor Montalbo of SinoPinas; and Gab Visenio and Derald Umali of Thirty Five Studio. With their capacity to reach a vast range of audiences, these influencers have served as catalysts in this modern age.
Thereafter, several photo and story features have been produced online reaching hundreds of thousands of social media audiences in addition to the national broadsheet features that came out from the BioCamp. Personal donations were received in the form of computers and rice for the TCP and the rangers.
A conservation group called Eco Explorations arranged a similar tour to MIBNP early next year where part of the proceeds will go to conserve the Tamaraws, particularly for patrol equipment and rangers’ uniforms. The group plans to sustain this activity and conduct it every month for educational purposes and to make an impact on conservation by mobilizing resources.
Finance solutions for the Tamaraws and other species
BIOFIN Philippines’ second phase includes finance solutions to raise resources for the Tamaraws and other species through crowdfunding, especially from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and Filipino migrants. Tamaraw conservation has also been considered as an initial program for funding under corporate social responsibility. (BIOFIN/ Angelique Ogena)