| Little Known Asian Animals With a Promising Economic Future |
|Part II : Wild Bovine Species|
The tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis) is related to the water buffalo, one of Asia's most important animal resources, but it has never been domesticated or studied and is threatened with extinction.
Appearance and Size
The tamaraw looks rather like a miniature water buffalo of the swamp type that is found in Southeast Asia. It reaches about I m in height and 300 kg in weight. It is much more stockily built and is blacker than the swamp buffalo. The tamaraw has white marks on the fetlocks, instead of completely white lower legs like the banteng, gaur, and kouprey. It has short (35-50 cm), very stout horns that curve out and back slightly.
Endemic to the Philippine island of Mindoro the tamaraw is now virtually restricted to three small areas (Mount Iglet/Mount Baco, Mount Calavita, and Sablayon) in Mindoro Occidental.
Because of its limited distribution, the tamaraw's future is of concern to conservationists. Until World War II, hunting was carefully regulated in its native region and no serious concern was felt for the animal's safety. Since then, however, increases in human population, lumbering, and ranching have restricted the tamaraw's habitat, and the availability of rifles and automatic weapons has seriously threatened its numbers. In 1971, research teams counted 148 head, consisting of 116 adults and 32 calves. The latest estimate is 150-200 head.
Of these last remaining animals, about 80 are located at Mount Iglit, a game refuge established in 1961 primarily to protect the tamaraw. Recently an active tamaraw conservation program has been started in a 400-hectare enclosed area on the refuge. Stockade traps have been built and tamaraw are beginning to move into them. The goal is to establish a small, semicaptive population that can be properly guarded, studied, and managed.
Habitat and Environment
The habitat requirements of the tamaraw appear to be fairly flexible, and present habitat use reflects human pressures rather than the animal's preferences. In the past, tamaraw were found in virtually all parts of Mindoro, from sea level to mountain tops. They occupied open grasslands or glades, but hunting pressure and habitat change have forced it to retreat into forest environments.
At present the tamaraw is found primarily in remote areas that have been partly cleared, largely by fire, so that only small pockets of trees remain among coarse grasses such as Imperata cylindrica (a widespread, unpalatable tropical weed commonly called cogon, kunai, alang alang, lalang, or blady grass), and "tahalib" (Saccharum spontaneum). The tamaraw uses the forest pockets for rest and retreat and the open land for grazing. It must have a supply of water for wallowing and drinking.
According to cattlemen, tamaraw eat both Imperata grass and tehalib but only when these are short and green. During the wet season when most forages are tall and unpalatable, the animals are known to feed on bamboo shoots.
Life expectancy is about 20 years.
Tamaraw are reputed to be nocturnal, ferocious, and retiring. However, in earlier times they were reportedly relatively tame, diurnal animals of open areas. It was the continual hunting that made them increasingly nocturnal and secretive, and like other wild bovids they can become aggressive and dangerous when harassed or wounded. Given effective protection they doubtless would revert to placid, diurnal behavior.
The tamaraw appears to be a possible livestock animal. Its meat and hides were highly regarded by local peoples, cattlemen, and visiting hunters. Because of its close relationship to the water buffalo, it may be able to provide genetic material for improving the health and hardiness of that valuable animal resource.
The animal is renowned for hardiness and resilience to heat, humidity, and poor forage, as well as its capability to thrive in a variety of environmental conditions.
Tamaraws have only once produced offspring in a zoo and may prove difficult to raise in captivity. However, they have been kept in captivity so seldom that the prospects are unclear. Experiences with other wild bovids suggests that captivity and captive breeding should be no problem.
Research and Conservation Needs
The tamaraw must be protected and preserved. There is urgent need, for example, to establish more secure parks in the Philippines to rebuild the wild population to safe levels. Other conservation measures should include:
· Establishing and maintaining more reserves in natural habitats containing breeding populations, and
· Building up breeding populations in suitable zoos and livestock research centers.
Research is needed on the tamaraw's physiology, production characteristics, behavior, and genetic relationship to the water buffalo. None of these is well understood.