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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, October 2, 2017
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with ERROL A. GATUMBATO
OPINIONS

Tamaraw, other endemic species

October is the month of the Tamaraw in the Philippines. It is a species of mammal that can only be found in the island of Mindoro and nowhere else in the world, the reason why it is given paramount importance. It was first recorded in the island in 1888.

Scientifically, the Tamaraw is known as Bubalusmindorensis, and considered as the largest wild animal in the country. It is a closest relative of water buffalo found in Southern Asia, from which the domestic carabao is descended, as described by the late William Oliver, a British biologist who spent more than two decades of his life in the country to promote and implement conservation measures of the Philippines' threatened endemic species.

Unfortunately, just like several other island endemic species in the Philippines, the Tamaraw is critically endangered and its population in the wild is getting limited. June Pineda, the coordinator of the Tamaraw Conservation Project of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said during the last headcount of the Tamaraw in April this year that about 401 heads were spotted in the Mounts Iglit–Baco National Park, the remaining stronghold of the Tamaraws in Mindoro. The DENR, through the TCP, initiates the annual count of the Tamaraw to monitor the presence and population of this species in the wild. There are also other areas in Mindoro where the Tamaraws have been reported.

Habitat destruction, and conversion and hunting, are the two main factors why the Tamaraws are now highly threatened. These are similarly the reasons why other island endemic species of Mindoro are equally endangered. Mindoro is one of the islands in the world that hold a lot of single-island endemic species, meaning species that are restricted and confined only in that island. Aside from Tamaraw, Mindoro has its own bleeding heart pigeon, frog, and hornbill, to name a few. There is also a population of several Philippines' endemic species found in Mindoro, where a good number of places have been included in the list of Key Biodiversity Areas of the DENR.

The biodiversity importance of Mindoro has prompted Oliver and several other volunteers to form the Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. that is now implementing conservation initiatives in two provinces comprising the island. With funding support from the Malampaya ventures and some institutions, the MBCI is carrying out programs related to biological surveys and research, conservation awareness and education, development of conservation sites, sustainable livelihood, and institutional building and partnership in Mindoro. It is one of the partners of the DENR in commemorating the Tamaraw Month this October.

The geographic feature of the Philippines that is comprised of numerous islands make it rich in single-island endemic species. Negros, for instance, has its own endemic species, although it similarly shares various species with Cebu and Panay. In spite of the limited forest left in Cebu, it is still host to four single-island endemic species. Several other islands, like Camiguin, Tawi-tawi, Babuyan, Lubang, Romblon, Tablas, Sibuyan and Palawan, particularly the Calamianes Group of Islands, are similarly hosting some island endemic species. Luzon and Mindanao mainland have their own endemic species, too.

The enormous and varied species and habitats found in the Philippines make it a mega diverse country. Sadly, many of our endemic species are already threatened from extinction in the wild, the main reason why we ended up as one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world. A large track of former natural habitats in the country is now converted into agriculture, roads and other infrastructures, settlement, and industrial sites.*


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