Sunday, October 31, 2021

Lola Celebrates 80th Birthday with Mindoro’s Tamaraw Rangers

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#TogetherforTamaraws Campaign Generates PHP1.6M in Donations

Tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis) are endemic forest buffalo found only on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines. Numbering only about 600, they are considered critically-endangered by the IUCN, the highest rating for any species. At least 480 live inside the forests and grasslands of the Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park, with an additional 100 or so holding out in three other areas. (Gregg Yan)

Despite waning visitor revenues and budget cuts spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a happy Tamaraw Month for the grizzled rangers of the Tamaraw Conservation Programme (TCP).

TCP’s 31 rangers and five office workers are some of the most active frontliners protecting the tamaraw and the habitats it calls home. The Philippines celebrates Tamaraw Month every October to highlight the importance of the tamaraw, which is the world’s rarest wild buffalo.

A highlight was the 80th birthday of Lola Lolita Africa, who celebrated last 5 October by sending the TCP rangers cake, pansit and other treats. Since 2020, Lola Lolita and her daughter Rosemarie have been supporting #TogetherforTamaraws, an online fundraising campaign to help conservation frontliners affected by the pandemic. Together, the duo raised over USD4500 for the rangers. “If the tamaraw disappear, part of us will too,” shares Rosemarie.

Spearheaded by the United Nations Development Fund’s Biodiversity Finance Initiative (UNDP-BIOFIN), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB) and DENR’s MIMAROPA Regional Office, Together for Tamaraws ran from July to December 2020 and generated PHP1,601,301 (USD32,000) from 194 supporters, around half of which were from the Philippines, with three-fourths coming from online pledges. 

The funds were used to procure food packs, patrol allowances, thermal blankets, ranger uniforms, field hammocks, tents, stoves, cook sets, GPS and android devices, first aid and medical supplies, portable solar lamps and chargers, plus camera traps to photograph tamaraw safely and remotely.

The supplies and equipment were distributed in six tranches through partners like the Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Incorporated (MBFCI).

“The success of Together for Tamaraws proves that when we work towards a common goal, we can address the growing environmental and social issues brought about by the pandemic,” says TCP head Neil Anthony Del Mundo. “Our hardworking rangers, wardens and indigenous tribesfolk can breathe a bit easier, knowing they’ll have enough equipment and supplies to protect our tamaraw over the next months.”

The Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park (MIBNP), a former game refuge turned into a protected area, spans 106,655 hectares. It hosts at least 480 of the world’s 600 remaining tamaraw, plus many other endangered and legally protected species. MIBNP’s Protected Area Management Office (PAMO) recently participated in BIOFIN’s workshops on preparing protected area finance plans together with other park management bodies.

BIOFIN has also been organizing meetings to polish and facilitate the approval of the substitute bill of House Bill 8299 or An Act Institutionalizing the Tamaraw Conservation Programme, Creating its Administrative and Implementation Mechanisms, and Providing Funds Therefore.

Authored by BIOFIN legislative champion Cong. Josephine Ramirez-Sato, the Bill underwent three committee hearings and was approved in its third reading last 22 September.

Together for Tamaraws showed how Bayanihan is still very much alive, even amidst one of the greatest challenges of our time,” explains Sato. “Conserving the tamaraw means upholding the rights of our children, for their children to experience the rich culture, natural resources and unique beauty of Mindoro. This is why the Tamaraw Conservation Management bill must be passed immediately.

Since early 2020, most of the country has been under general or enhanced community quarantine. The majority of Philippine national parks were closed to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, leaving fewer rangers guarding against poachers. In September 2020, MIBNP and TCP rangers intercepted and caught three tamaraw poachers drying meat inside MIBNP. The rangers have pledged to continue their patrol operations to keep other poachers at bay.

Because of the sheer generosity and support of donors, Tamaraw Month 2021 is a bonafide cause for celebration.

But many more of the country’s 124 protected areas need help, since the funds once amply generated by park visitors are crucial for day-to-day operations. 

DENR-BMB, BIOFIN, the Department of Tourism (DOT) and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) are pushing for a proposed Presidential Proclamation to herald 2022 as the Year of the Protected Areas (YoPA) and June of each year as the Month of Protected Areas. YoPA aims to increase awareness on the value of protected areas, promote visits and in turn, increase park revenues from visitors.

In addition, DENR and BIOFIN are staging the Virtual Travels to Protected Areas video contest, which offers all-expense paid trips to selected protected areas in the country. The contest is open until 15 November and interested participants can learn more HERE.

“The pandemic forced us to practice physical distancing, but it should only be to stem the transmission of the virus. It should bring forth empathy, not drive us to apathy. It must instill optimism and renew our vigor, not shroud us in hopelessness and breed indifference,” concludes Sato. “To all our frontline conservation warriors in our protected areas, keep up the struggle and thank you for your service. We will overcome this challenge, together.”

Sent with the love of a Lola. Last 5 October, Lola Lolita and daughter Rosemarie Africa sent Mindoro’s Tamaraw Rangers money to buy a cake, pansit noodles and other treats so they can concurrently celebrate her 80th birthday. The mother and daughter tandem were among the first to support #TogetherforTamaraws. (UNDP-BIOFIN)

Tamaraw Rangers and Wardens at one of the six turnovers for supplies and equipment, held at the foothills of the Mounts Iglit-Baco Mountain Range in Mindoro. (Ace Gatdula)

Tamaraw Conservation Programme or TCP rangers scan nearby ridges for intruders. The makeshift pugakang or shotgun is used to scare off poachers, who are usually armed with long-range hunting rifles. The COVID-19 pandemic has left few rangers to patrol the Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park, the last stronghold of the iconic tamaraw. (Gregg Yan)

Lola Lolita and daughter Rosemarie Africa were just two of nearly 200 supporters of #TogetherforTamaraws, a UNDP fundraising campaign which raised PHP1.6M or USD32,000 to provide Mindoro’s Tamaraw Rangers with supplies, allowances and equipment. (UNDP-BIOFIN)

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