How this Documentary Film is Helping to Save the Critically Endangered Tamaraws

How this Documentary Film is Helping to Save the Critically Endangered Tamaraws

There was a time when a tamaraw (also known as Mindoro dwarf buffalo) sighting was a thing of the past – no tracks at all. They were last seen in 1992 but after 27 years, during a tamaraw expedition led by Tamaraw Conservation Program (TCP) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) along with other partner organizations in June of this year, a male juvenile tamaraw was seen again, and it definitely wasn’t a carabao’s doppelganger.

The tamaraws which are elusive creatures, critically endangered and endemic to the province of Mindoro in the Philippines, are confirmed to be roaming near the peak of Mt. Calavite once again. 

Read more: Species at Risk: The Most Critically Endangered Animals in the Philippines

At the time of writing, there are said to be about 480 tamaraws left in the wild which isn’t enough for a population to be sustainable. A population this small causes an ‘allee effect‘ where the genetic diversity of the species becomes weak. One reason for the tamaraw’s dwindling population is that it’s a favorite target of hunters, poachers and the indigenous Mangyan tribe of Mindoro. Yet, despite the danger, a total of 23 TCP rangers are still willing to protect these elusive bovine across 2,500 hectares of wilderness.

With global warming pushing our planet to a global tipping point because of ever-accelerating effects of climate change, achieving the stability of a well-balanced natural environment becomes increasingly difficult to accomplish. Saving species such as the tamaraw and its habitat is crucial in the preservation of our planet as each creature plays an important role in the ecosystem.

The fast decline of this species simply means that we need a new approach and more solutions that will support the biological diversity and abundance of the tamaraws. TCP rangers are on the frontlines, soldiering on despite their lack of government support and receiving just a few bucks a month (which simply isn’t enough to support their family), they continue with their mission to protect the tamaraws and are committed to have them removed from the critically endangered category.

Volunteers and participants of the Saving the Tamaraws fundraising event.

Early this month, I attended the Saving the Tamaraws fundraising event at the Masungi Georeserve organized by Eco Explorations in partnership with Biofin Philippines and Masungi Georeserve. Biofin Philippines took this opportunity to debut the documentary film ‘Suwag o Suko: Saving the Tamaraws from Extinction’, written by Celine Murillo and directed by Mark Ace Gatdula. The film explored why the tamaraws are on the brink of extinction and how the TCP rangers are risking their lives for them. 

After taking an expedition around Mt. Iglit-Baco National Park, a protected area in Mindoro where sightings of tamaraws were once common, the film creators were inspired to create the film pro-bono with a mission to raise awareness of the issue. “It was made with local audiences in mind because we want to instill a sense of pride and shared identity and ownership for our natural heritage,” said film writer Celine Murillo.

Director Mark Ace Gatdula answered all our questions after the Suwag o Suko screening. On his right, Ma. Teresita Pineda Jr.-David (aka Ms. June), a former TCP coordinator, now works with City Environment and Natural Resources Office.

The generous spirit of the film’s team also inspired others, including Carlo Delantar, country Director for Waves for Water a non-government organization with a mission to correct the imbalance of water scarcity in developing communities across the world. Carlo offered to provide water filters for all 23 TCP rangers because “access to clean water is a human right”.

He said, “We will start with five filters to the stations to see if they are accustomed to it and then move towards their families before 2020 ends.”

During the event, Ms. June of City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) of DENR enlightened us about their long term goal to institutionalize TCP, to help rangers get permanent jobs and work benefits. In addition, they will also receive a regular annual budget from the government for tamaraw conservation which will help to close the 80% financing gap for biodiversity.

Angelique Ogena of Biofin Philippines, explaining the annual financing gap of $19 billion (80%) for biodiversity.

Overall the fundraising event was a great success; the organizers were able to raise enough funds to provide two months’ worth of rice for all tamaraw rangers. 

Want to help fund tamaraw conservation efforts in Mindoro, Philippines? Consider hosting a ‘Suwag o Suko’ screening party or film viewing. You can also contact Angelique Ogena @angeogena to organize a special screening. Through this gesture, you’re not only giving support to TCP rangers, but contributing to helping the country restore the balance of its ecosystem. 

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