Camera traps deployed in the rugged mountains of Occidental Mindoro’s Iglit-Baco range have just captured dramatic images of Tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis) – the world’s rarest buffalo species and the Philippines’ largest endemic land animal.
Part of ‘Tams-2’ – an ambitious public-private partnership initiative to double wild Tamaraw numbers from 300 to 600 by 2020, the small infrared cameras are crucial tools in giving scientists a glimpse of the habits of particularly secretive animals. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has deployed hundreds of camera traps worldwide.
Four of the camouflaged traps were recently deployed by Dr. Brent Stewart, a renowned scientist from the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI) who also helps WWF-Philippines study Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus) in Donsol, Sorsogon. The boxlike, weatherproof Reconyx and Bushnell camera traps automatically shoot stills and videos to a maximum range of 30 meters.
After a week, the traps revealed groundbreaking images of Tamaraw – 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.
To support the conservation of both the Tamaraw and its productive mountain habitats, WWF partnered with the Far Eastern University (FEU), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Tamaraw Conservation Programme (TCP), Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI), local government of Occidental Mindoro, plus the indigenous Tawbuid Mangyan inhabitants of Mts. Iglit-Baco for an ambitious goal – to double wild Tamaraw numbers from 300 to 600 by 2020.
An estimated 10,000 Tamaraw once roamed the island of Mindoro in the 1900s. “A crippling outbreak of Rinderpest in the 1930s, widespread land clearing, plus trophy hunting drove the species to the brink of extinction,” explains TCP Head and Mts. Iglit-Baco Protected Area Superintendent Rodel Boyles. “By 1969, the population plummeted to less than 100 heads, holding out atop the grassy slopes and forest patches of Mts. Iglit, Baco, Aruyan and Calavite.”
Owing largely to local government conservation efforts, the population has recovered to 345 heads as of April 2013. “This initiative addresses research gaps not just for Tamaraw – but all creatures that inhabit the park,” adds Boyles.
“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,” notes WWF-Philippines Vice-chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan. “Working hand-in-hand with the DENR, our Ridge-to-Reef initiative uses the Tamaraw as a rallying icon to revitalize the mountains that irrigate the rice fields of Mindoro’s lowlands. Healthy rivers also translate to healthy coasts – crucial in sustaining the productivity of the reefs that generate vast amounts of seafood.”
WWF, FEU and the DENR’s Western Mindoro Integrated Conservation Program ties in Tamaraw research and improved park management initiatives with ongoing efforts to conserve Apo Reef and the rich marine habitats of Sablayan.
“Science-based action spurs effective conservation,” concludes Dr. Stewart. “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.”