There’s no easy way to see a Tamaraw in the wild, even in the heart of Tamaraw country: Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines. Barney Long, GWC’s senior director of species conservation describes the 4-hour trek uphill to see the dwarf buffalo as a “bloody difficult walk, even for people used to walking around tough terrain.”
It’s an impossible trek when going back downhill, too—at least with a twisted ankle. Such was the case for a family friend of Emmanuel Schütz, program manager for the Mangyan-Tamaraw Driven Landscape Program, D’ABOVILLE Foundation, who brought his friends to the park to see the wildlife and wildlands he is passionately committed to protecting. Lucky for the pair, the park rangers with them were on it.
“They asked her height and weight and then went into the forest to cut the proper-sized bamboo for a hanging hammock they could use to carry her down Iglit,” Schütz says. “Then they organized the porters’ teams into a relay during the four-hour hike. They turned it into a fun opportunity to challenge themselves to beat everyone else to the park entrance—which they did, without even dropping my friend in the process. This is an example of the joyful character of the Filipino culture, and the capacity of the Tamaraw rangers to find a solution to challenges, while enjoying the process.”
This spirit—of finding a creative and collaborative solution to an otherwise overwhelming challenge—is the same spirit driving park staff, indigenous leaders, local partners, and national and international experts to mobilize to implement a protected area management plan for Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park, ensuring a healthy future for the park and the wildlife and indigenous peoples that live there.
“Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park is currently the heartland for the Tamaraw,” says Mike Appleton, GWC’s director of protected area management, who is helping support these efforts. “Because the natural park office is the main management authority for the area, it can mobilize and focus resources for conservation of the Tamaraw, develop integrated approaches to protection and management and pioneer co-management with indigenous people. We can use this experience to learn how to manage the Tamaraw populations in areas outside the park, too.”
Rare Gem of the Tropics
In 2018, the government of the Philippines redeclared Mounts Iglit-Baco a natural park, mandating the development of a management plan within one year. This call to action spurred the park to lead two participatory zoning and planning events in May and September—the first time that people from all groups with an interest in the park had gathered to work together on the future of the park, Appleton says.
“Representatives from local government units, agencies and communities who had lived around the park their whole lives offered their knowledge and insights,” he says. “Their input was incredibly valuable, and many of them told me that they had learned a lot about the park, its importance and the challenges it faces.”
The new 10-year protected area management plan for Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park takes a holistic approach to managing the park and helping Tamaraw thrive there, combining scientific management and monitoring of the Tamaraw population (80 percent of which is in the park) with securing the rights of indigenous people and addressing various threats, which include extensive deforestation for agriculture and cattle ranching, and wildlife poaching.
Protecting the People
The natural park encompasses large tracks of the ancestral lands of the Tau-buid and Buhid indigenous tribes, making them key stakeholders in any decisions related to management of the park. Representatives from these indigenous groups attended the recent zoning, management planning and Population and Habitat Viability Assessment (PHVA) workshops and contributed to each of the working groups, giving them a chance to strongly influence the long-term fate not only of the park, but of the Tamaraw.
“The Tau Buid see their future and the future of the Tamaraw as inextricably linked, so any solution must include both,” Appleton says. “The management plan sets out a program to help the Tau Buid obtain official recognition of their Ancestral Domain, which has been denied them in the past, and then to work with them to manage their lands in a way that integrates their cultural and development needs with the recovery of Tamaraw.”
The indigenous people are also active partners in wildlife crime prevention activities, says James Slade, GWC’s wildlife crime prevention officer, because illegal activities against wildlife and natural resources are also illegal acts of intrusion on their ancestral domains. The management plan also aims to increase the relationship between rangers and the indigenous people and outlines how rangers can ensure that traditional lifestyles can be maintained, while monitoring the balance between human activity, the natural environment and wildlife.
“Including representatives from all the indigenous communities in planning phases for the augmentation of management and protection of the Tamaraw and Tamaraw habitats has been a great step forward in furthering a positive relationship between everyone involved in Tamaraw conservation,” Slade says.
Putting the Pieces Together
The protected area management plan for Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park will complement the broader National Tamaraw Conservation Action Plan, which aims to restore the species across the island of Mindoro. The collaborative management plan is also spurring additional support for the conservation of the natural park—and beyond, says Fe Raguindin, protected area superintendent of Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park.
“The new plan will provide many opportunities for the park to secure more support and resources for its conservation work and to benefit future generations of the people of Mindoro,” Raguindin says. “I am very happy with the progress we have made on the plan. It will be a remarkable achievement.”
And once the plan is in place and succeeding, Schütz will be able to take his friend back uphill to see Tamaraw—in even greater numbers, and thriving.
(Top photo: Rangers’ patrolling route in Mount Iglit-Baco Natural Park. Photo by Emmanuel Schütz, D’ABOVILLE Foundation)