TAMARAW MONTH (October 2020) – Pong Capati emigrated from the Philippines to America in 1982, retiring after 30 years of work. Last July, he heard about #TogetherforTamaraws, an online fundraising campaign to help conservation frontliners affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I realized that without rangers, we cannot protect the tamaraw. I really wanted to help so I shared the campaign to my family, friends and colleagues. With my niece Sofia, we fused our love for food and art and managed to raise over PHP30,000 for our rangers.”
Funds were raised in the most creative ways: Ruth Ann Cabria sold items online to declutter her home; Artist Issa Barte auctioned art pieces; Photographer Derald Umali raffled off a film camera.
All put, some 150 individuals and institutions raised over PHP1.1 million to help Mindoro’s tamaraw rangers and forest wardens, many of whom lost their jobs because of the pandemic. The funds shall be turned over on 29 October to cap off Tamaraw Month, celebrated in the Philippines each October.
“These creative fundraising efforts show how the worst times can also bring out the best in people,” says DENR-BMB Assistant Secretary Ricardo Calderon. “Our Bayanihan Spirit lives on through crowdfunding. We thank our partners, donors and contributors in proving how everyone can do their part for conservation.”
Together for Tamaraws
Since March 2020, most of the Philippines has been under general or enhanced community quarantine. The country’s national parks were closed to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.
This left Mindoro’s Iglit-Baco Natural Park with little funding, cutting off the sole source of income for 32 wardens and one ranger, all members of Mindoro’s indigenous Taw’buid, Buid and Iraya tribes. Only 23 TCP rangers and three wardens are currently patrolling a core area of 2500 hectares inside the 106,655-hectare Iglit-Baco park, which hosts at least 480 of the world’s last 600 tamaraws.
“The Tamaraw Conservation Programme (TCP) and Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park (MIBNP) are indebted to those who have and will continue to help us,” says TCP head Neil Anthony del Mundo. “The assistance to be given to our wardens and rangers will go a long way in keeping both our tamaraws and protected areas safe.”
Critical Time for Biodiversity
#TogetherforTamaraws is led by the Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) project under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau and MIMAROPA Regional Office.
In July, the Philippine Parks & Biodiversity NGO further created the Tamaraw Society for its 20 for 20 campaign where they called on 20 organizations or individuals to pledge or fundraise PHP20,000 each. The Tamaraw Society is currently comprised of the following 18 entities: D’Aboville Foundation and Demo Farm, Eco Explorations, Masungi Georeserve Foundation, Ecoheroes, Far Eastern University, Fund the Forest, JaDine Habb Fans Club, Kids for Kids / Bye Bye Plastic Bags, Giselle Sy, Hey Namski x FIASFUD, Michael Montesano, Oscar Lopez, Planet CORA, Elmer and Kitkat Mercado, Ruth Cabria, The Learned Tribe, Thirty Five Studio, and WWF-Philippines.
“This is a critical time for Philippine biodiversity,” says UNDP Deputy Resident Representative Enrico Gaveglia. “With Philippine protected areas undermanned because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the threat of plant and animal poaching is at its highest. We need to do our part in ensuring that our conservation frontliners have the means and capacity to continue their mission. After all, if not for the TCP and MIBNP rangers hand in hand with the Mangyan communities of Mts. Iglit-Baco, the tamaraw might well be extinct.”
Against the backdrop of the pandemic, the past few months have been a challenging time for Tamaraw conservation in the country. In September, MIBNP and TCP rangers successfully intercepted and caught three tamaraw poachers drying meat inside the park. The poachers later escaped and are still at large. Kalibasib, the world’s only captive-bred tamaraw, also died last 10 October after 21 years in captivity.
Space Needed for Tamaraw Herds
Today’s tamaraw populations are fragmented, with only four remaining populations spread throughout Mindoro. From an estimated 10,000 heads in 1900, tamaraw numbers plummeted to under 100 heads in 1969. Conservation efforts have paid off tremendously, helping the population recover to over 600. Impressive, but still a far cry from the original population.
"To truly allow the tamaraw population to grow, it is essential to provide more space for the species," says D'ABOVILLE Foundation program manager Emmanuel Schütz, another donor. "This is a landscape approach where local communities must and shall benefit from the environmental enhancement and security that tamaraw conservation induces."
The donation turnover ceremony shall be held at Barangay Poypoy in Mindoro Occidental. The funds shall be used to pay for wages, supplies and equipment.
The DENR-BMB, UNDP-BIOFIN and its allies shall continue fundraising for Mindoro’s tamaraw rangers. Individuals who wish to donate can click bit.ly/TogetherForTamaraws or email firstname.lastname@example.org while those who wish to join the Tamaraw Society can click bit.ly/TamarawSociety.