Women have been in the forefront of BIOFIN Philippines’ work on tamaraw conservation in the past three years. From engaging social media influencers in 2018, producing a documentary film in a bid to raise awareness of the plight of the critically endangered tamaraws and their protectors in 2019, to a fundraising campaign in 2020 to mobilize resources for tamaraw conservation – women have clearly engraved their role in our consciousness as game changers in raising awareness of and funds for the tamaraws and their protectors.
The pandemic’s impact on tamaraw conservation
With a population of about 600 heads, 80% of which can be found in Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park (MIBNP), tamaraws are endemic only to the island of Mindoro.
Protection of tamaraws depends largely on an effective law enforcement system that is usually carried out by tamaraw frontliners regularly patrolling the slopes of MIBNP to keep poachers and hunters at bay. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, deals a crushing blow to the park with strict travel restrictions, reducing park’s revenue from tourism to nil. As a result, 33 out of the 59 tamaraw frontliners (24 rangers and 35 wardens) of the Tamaraw Conservation Program and Protected Area Management Office, who regularly patrol the 2,600-hectare strict protection zone within the 106,000-hectare park, were furloughed. With this, BIOFIN, together with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and UNDP Philippines, launched the Together for Tamaraws fundraising campaign as part of a global initiative to keep conservation heroes in their jobs amid the pandemic.
Together for Tamaraws: A crowdfunding campaign to keep the rangers and wardens in their jobs
The Together for Tamaraws campaign targeted to raise USD 25,000 (PhP 1,194,000) in three months between July and October 2020 with the objective of ensuring that the tamaraw frontliners plod on and continue protecting the tamaraws. The campaign aimed to support the rangers and wardens, majority of whom are indigenous peoples called the Mangyan, who have been tasked to protect the critically endangered water buffalo and who at the same time have incurred huge income losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Three months after its launch, the campaign surpassed its target by almost 40%, raising money from 194 local and foreign donors including Filipino expatriates. Funds raised provided field allowances for the furloughed frontliners for six months. They also covered six months’ worth of patrol assistance in the form of food packs for the regular patrolling of all 59 tamaraw frontliners.
Women as game changers in raising funds for tamaraw conservation
A key factor to the huge success of the campaign was the meaningful partnerships created and nurtured through the years with strong women champions in the conservation field. Among the first to respond to the campaign’s call for donations were Rosemarie Janet Africa and her mother, Lolita Africa. Both committed to donate USD 420 for 12 months for the protection of the tamaraws. Rosemarie believes that “[i]f they disappear, a part of us disappears. We call on every citizen to donate – for our survival and as inhabitants of this earth.” Such concurs to a result of a local study on fundraising that males tend to give huge, one-time donations while females tend to give smaller gifts in a recurring manner.
To help expand the campaign’s reach, five campaign ambassadors were chosen, four of whom were women, and these were: 1) Celine Murillo, a social media influencer who joined the 2018 Biodiversity Camp (BioCamp) and also the writer of the Suwag o Suko documentary film for the tamaraws; 2) Nella Lomotan, another participant of the 2018 Biocamp and also the founder of Eco Explorations, and co-founder of Philippine Parks and Biodiversity; 3) Ann Dumaliang, who is a National Geographic Explorer and co-founder of the lauded Masungi Georeserve; and 4) Congresswoman Josephine Ramirez-Sato, the representative of the lone district of Occidental Mindoro and BIOFIN’s legislative champion in the Philippines. These four remarkable women together with campaign ambassador Gab Mejia, another National Geographic Explorer and Nikon Philippines ambassador, were instrumental in spreading the word about the campaign across various cliques and levels of the society. The more people reached, the more people who donated to the campaign.
Another significant partnership that was borne out of the campaign was with the Tamaraw Society, which was conceptualized by campaign ambassador Nella Lomotan through her NGO Philippine Parks and Biodiversity. The Tamaraw Society is a group of organizations and mostly young individuals who committed to raise at least USD 400 each in campaign fund contribution. Each member did her or his own fundraising in various ways such as selling preloved items, holding an online raffle of a film camera, auctioning original print and digital artworks, and selling merchandise items such as tote bags and shirts and food.
A handful of Tamaraw Society members are led by young and innovative women. For instance, Fund the Forest, a project that aims to make helping easily accessible and information easily digestible to empower partner communities and their homes, is headed by its founder Issa Barte, a digital artist; EcoHeroes is headed by ambassador Celine Murillo, who composed an original song that she sold for this cause (USD 1 per sale of the song); Masungi Georeserve is headed by campaign ambassador Ann Dumaliang; Planet CORA is headed by Antoinette Taus, United Nations Environment Programme Goodwill Ambassador; Ruth Ann Cabria, who is an independent insurance agent, raised USD 400 by selling her second-hand wardrobe items; Hey Namski and Fiasfud, represented by students Nami Capati and Sofia Padilla, raised funds using their passion for food and arts. Together with the rest of the members, the Tamaraw Society raised about USD 8,000, equivalent to a third of the campaign’s financial target.
The success of the Tamaraw Society relative to the campaign just shows what the power of women and youth can do when combined to effect tangible conservation outcomes. More importantly, the entire campaign manifests that, indeed, women coming together toward a conservation goal can easily become game changers in financing for nature through their passions and unique ways.
BIOFIN contributes to closing the financing gap for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity by identifying, accessing, combining and sequencing sources of biodiversity funding to finance the Philippine Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (PBSAP), the country’s roadmap to conserving its biodiversity. The PBSAP implementation will cost PhP 24B/year or PhP 334B (USD 7.4B low estimate) from 2015-2028. However, public expenditure was estimated at only PhP 4.9B/year (USD 110M) leaving a gap of almost PhP 19B (USD 349M) annually. Several finance solutions to address the gap were identified and are being piloted by BIOFIN at present including crowdfunding. (BIOFIN Philippines/ Angelique Ogena)