Source :, Philippines, 23 Oct 2005
By : Blanche S. Rivera

Endangered Tamaraws breed in the wilds again  
IT'S back to the wilds for the Tamaraw.

Experts are seriously considering "closing" the gene pool of Tamaraws in Occidental Mindoro. Recent surveys showed that the species, a descendant of the cow, deer and carabao found only in the Philippines, might be better off left in the mountains.

The Tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis) was nearly wiped out by an epidemic in the 1930s, and then further depleted by the hunt for trade and trophies. It was listed by the World Conservation Union as one of the most threatened mammals on earth. The government has protected the endangered species for the past three decades and established a gene pool.

The Tamaraws are endemic to Mindoro and have been breeding well in the wild, the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau reported.

In contrast, out of the original 10 Tamaraws captured for the gene pool, only two have survived-Mimi and her calf Kalibasib.

"This is the first time we're going to evaluate if we still need the gene pool. If they're breeding in the wild, then we may not need to capture them for preservation," PAWB director Mundita Lim told the Inquirer.

At least 269 Tamaraws, many of them juvenile, were sighted on Mt. Iglit alone. They have also made their homes on Mt. Baco, Mt. Halcon and Mt. Calavite.

While the population is still critically small and insufficient to get the Tamaraw off the country's list of endangered species, the 269 sightings are an improvement over the 100-head count in the past decade.

If the gene pool is closed, Mimi and Kalibasib will not be released to the wild, according to Lim.

No to cloning

The increased population has also reinforced the PAWB's decision not to subject the Tamaraw to cloning as proposed by the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC), the first such proposal aimed at preserving the country's endangered wildlife.

The PCC had wanted to clone the Tamaraws in the gene pool but the Department of Environment and Natural Resources rejected the proposal, saying that cloning would reduce the genetic diversity of the species.

"It's not ethical because we still have enough Tamaraws in the wild. If there were, say, only two or three of the species left, then cloning could be viable," Lim said.

The Tamaraws, noted for their fierceness and determination to attack their enemies even when they are wounded, nearly failed to survive one enemy in the 1930s-the rinderpest, a highly fatal viral disease affecting domestic cattle, buffalo and yaks.

Gene pool

From an estimated population of 10,000 in the wild, the Tamaraws had been reduced to only about 150 in the 1970s, prompting the government to establish a gene pool.

Ten unrelated Tamaraws were captured in the wild, placed in an enclosed area in Rizal, Occidental Mindoro, and allowed to breed.

After almost 30 years, however, the gene pool produced only one offspring, five-year-old Kalibasib, short for Kalikasang Bagong Sibol. Today, only Kalibasib and its mother, Mimi, are left in the gene pool.

"Not only did they not mate, most of the Tamaraws (in the gene pool) died of natural causes... The problem probably is that they were treated much like carabaos," Environment Undersecretary Armando de Castro, who oversees the government's wildlife preservation program, said in an earlier interview.

The gene pool had been under the supervision of the PCC and was transferred to the DENR only four years ago.

Tamaraw month

Lim said the PAWB would start consultations this month with the local government, communities and other stakeholders on the necessity of keeping a Tamaraw gene pool. October was declared Tamaraw Month in 2002.

Alongside the festivities for Tamaraw Month in Mindoro, Lim said she expects to get the sentiments of the Mindore¤os, who are proud of their unique species.

"The people in Mindoro are very aware of the conservation efforts for the Tamaraw, and they are actively helping the government," Lim said, adding that the residents themselves have tried to keep hunters away.

Turning down offers

She said the communities had also refused to create a conservation area outside the island even in exchange for foreign funding for the country's wildlife conservation programs.

A zoo in the United Kingdom had expressed interest in importing the Tamaraw for education and conservation purposes, with the condition that the Philippines could retrieve the animals anytime after they had bred.

This was also turned down by the Mindoreños.

"They're very possessive of the Tamaraws; they also (want) to protect them," Lim said, adding that the communities' ability to keep the Tamaraws safe in Mindoro's mountains could be the key to their survival for the next hundred years-with or without the gene pool.