Not many people know this, but October is National Tamaraw Month.
As a foreigner, I know very little about the tamaraw. To be honest, I only knew of the animal’s existence because for years I’ve seen locally-made Toyota vans bearing the name ‘Tamaraw’. I also understand the tamaraw as symbol on a boy scout’s neckerchief.
But what exactly is a tamaraw?
The tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis) or Mindoro dwarf buffalo is a small, hoofed mammal belonging to the family Bovidae. It’s endemic to the island of Mindoro and is the only endemic Philippine bovine. It is believed, however, to have once also thrived on Luzon.
Contrary to common belief and past classification, the tamaraw is not a sub-species of the carabao.
What’s the difference between a tamaraw and a carabao?
The tamaraw stands four feet at the shoulder and weighs about 300 kilograms. It is solitary, skittish, and prone to charging when threatened or startled. During the Pleistocene Epoch 12,000 years ago, tamaraw herds ranged across mainland Luzon.
Extirpated by hunting, disease and land conversion, only around 350 hold out atop the rugged mountains of Mindoro. It is today classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically-endangered, just one step above extinction.
The Carabao (Bubalus bubalis) is slightly bigger at around 4.5 feet at the shoulder and weighs from 500 to 700 kilograms. Domesticated 5,000 years ago and introduced by Malay settlers to the Philippines some 2,200 years ago, it’s a highly gregarious, docile and subservient – perfect for draft-work like pulling carts and ploughs. Around 3.2 million Carabaos range throughout the Philippines, remaining the country’s most familiar and beloved farm animal.
Unlike the sweeping large horns of the carabao, the tamaraw has shorter horns that are somewhat V-shaped. The tamaraw is also slightly hairier and has light markings on its face.
For many years, the Tamaraw Conservation Program (TCP) has been working hard to save the tamaraw from extinction.
In 1980, the Tamaraw Gene Pool Farm was established in Manoot, Rizal in the province of Occidental Mindoro. It’s main purpose was to serve as a captive breeding facility. Alas, it was not a success.
From 20 captured animals, only one tamaraw was produced.
Undaunted, the TCP is converting the captive breeding facility into the “Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation, Research and Education Center”.
The tamaraw will still be the star attraction, and part of the facility to be retained for research and captive breeding purposes, and as a showcase of the bovine’s typical habitat. The center will also act as a repository to various wildlife species found in Mindoro, especially those confiscated or apprehended from illegal traders and owners.