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Yok Don Park
Bubalus mindorensis Heude, 1888

Table of contents



Taxonomy To the top

The tamaraw has long been confused with the anoa (Bubalus depressicornis, Bubalus quarlesi) and some authors placed it in the subgenus Anoa (e.g. Rabor, 1977; Nowak, 1991). Later it was considered as a subspecies of the water buffalo (Bubalus arnee) (Corbet and Hill, 1992), before receiving its specific status. Even though the phylogenetic relationships remain unclear, the result of DNA analysis show that the tamaraw share a closer relationship with the water buffalo (Bubalus arnee) than with the other species of Bubalus (Tanaka et al., 1996). Bubalus mindorensis has no recognised subspecies (Custodio et al., 1996).

Distribution To the top

The tamaraw is endemic to the island of Mindoro (9,735 km2), south of Manila, in the Philippines, with a total range estimated to be less than 100 km2. One century ago, tamaraw were widespread across this island, but now their distribution is much dispersed; only two populations seems to exist, one on the Mangyan Heritage Park (previously know has Mt. Iglit-Baco National Park) located in a mountainous terrain in the central region of Mindoro, and another one on Mount Aruyan/Sablayan in the west (IUCN, 2002). Much of Mindoro is very rugged and unsuitable as tamaraw habitat. Fossil records of tamaraw dating to the Pleistocene have been found in Luzon, the main island of the Philippines, indicating that the species distribution was once more widespread. Moreover, according to recent discovery of fossil remains, the tamaraw may be the last survivor of several species of dwarf buffaloes (e.g. Bubalus cebuensis), which have become extinct in the Philippines since human colonization of the islands (Croft et al., 2006).

Description To the top

Total height at the shoulders is about 95 to 110 cm and body mass 200 to 300 kg. The limbs are short and the body is stocky (Rabor, 1977). Neonates are reddish-brown with dark brown legs and a black dorsal line. Calves a few months old have light brown bodies which later turn dark brown or slate colored. The developpement of a slate-colored pelage occur at 3 to 4 years old in males and females. In most individuals the slate-colored pelage darkens to black, but some adult females can be rather brown or brown-tinged. Change in haircoat color and shape of the horns can be used in the estimation of the age of tamaraws (Kuehn, 1986). White markings are present above the hooves as well as on the inner lower forelegs, similar to the lowland anoa (Bubalus depressicornis). White markings are also present on the inside of the ears (Custodio et al., 1996). Adults present short horns (35-50 cm long), which grow upward and are triangular on cross section. Sexual dimorphism is low, the male presents a thicker neck than the female.

Ecology To the top

The ecology of the tamaraw is largely unknown, with only short term studies in the wild. Tamaraws used to roam in open pasture, dense bamboo vegetation, marshy river valleys and upland forest in Mindoro Island, from sea level to elevation over 2,000 m (Rabor, 1977). Because of pressures from hunting and shrinking habitat, the animals defensively retreated to forested areas and are now active at night (Kuehn, 1986). The original dipterocarp forests of Mindoro Island are found only as remnant fragments along limestone ridges where they are protected from fire (Talbot and Talbot, 1966). Current populations occur at very low densities. They are more solitary than other wild bovines, especially adult males who do not seem to associate together, but associate with reproductive female for short time. Family groups consist of a female with calves. Juveniles can occasionally aggregate together. Females can hide their neonate to range quite far (50m) rather than accompanying them constantly (Kuehn, 1986). Their diet consists mainly of new growth of grass (Cynodon arcuatus, Digitaria sanguinalis, Eleusine indica, Sorghum nitidum, Paspalum scrobiculatum, Alloteropsis semialata, Vetiveria zizanoides, Imperata cylindrica and Saccharum spontaneum) and bamboo shoots (Schizostachyum sp.) (Talbot and Talbot, 1966). In summer they move to lower areas in search of water. Tamaraws seem to wallow more during the day than at night and during the rainy season compared to the dry season (Momongan et al., 1996). Gestation period is between 276 and 315 days, with only one young per birth. They have an interbirth interval of two years. Calves will stay with their mothers for 2-4 years, after which they go off on their own. In the wild, birth seems to occur throughout the rainy season. Some estimates suggest a lifespan of 25 years.

Conservation To the top

Historically, the population may have numbered 10,000 in 1900 (Harrisson, 1969), but has since declined to 30 to 200 individuals distributed in only two populations as the result of considerable habitat loss by burning and human encroachment, poaching (by indigenous people, cattle ranchers, human settlers and sportsmen), competition and disease transmission from livestock (IUCN, 2002). The estimates for the Mangyan Heritage Park vary from 20 to ca. 175 individuals, and figures of between 14 to 30 individuals have been suggested for Mount Aruyan (IUCN, 2002). However, accurate estimates of population size and of all populations do not exist. The sharp decline in the population of tamaraw from 1900 to 1949 was attributed to the outbreak of rinderpest in the Philippines around 1930. Enforcement of existing legislation is needed to protect the known tamaraw populations, i.e. in Mangyan Heritage Park (75,500ha). Human encroachment on the Mangyan Heritage Park is by far the most serious threat to the tamaraw. Cox and Woodford (1990) reported that 2,000 people have already illegally occupied a vast area in the south-western part of this park. The creation of protected areas containing major tamaraw populations is highly recommended. It is also important to prevent the transmission of domestic cattle disease to Mindoro. The likelihood of outbreaks of highly infectious disease such as foot and mouth disease, tuberculosis, rinderpest and brucellosis, is particularly high. The Tamaraw Conservation Program (TCP) was established in 1979 to protect the tamaraw, restore its habitat, conduct information and education campaigns, and carry out population and habitat studies (Maala, 2001). According to the report by Cox and Woodford (1990), TCP has failed in its mission to provide adequate protection to the tamaraw or to generate a significant number of research studies. Such efforts to establish a practical conservation management and research program for this species have been hampered by conflicting recommendations from international organizations. Moreover, multiple changes in supervising authority have resulted in altered priorities, unreliable funding, and suspension of activities (IUCN, 1996). The captive breeding component of TCP was realized through a 280-ha captive breeding facility known as “gene pool”, established near the southern border of the Mangyan Heritage Park. Unfortunately, this species is considered difficult to keep in captivity and this breeding facility was a failure (Cox and Woodford, 1990). There are presently no tamaraw in captivity outside of Philippines.

References To the top

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