CLOSE EN­COUNTER WITH KALIBASIB

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - FRONT PAGE - @mari­carcin­coINQ By Maricar Cinco

RIZAL, OC­CI­DEN­TAL MINDORO— Kalibasib, the lone sur­viv­ing Philip­pine tama­raw ( Bubalus min­doren­sis) bred in cap­tiv­ity, is ag­ing.

His left eye has turned cloudy, a con­di­tion that vet­eri­nar­i­ans at first thought was caused by cataract.

Re­cently, a wildlife spe­cial­ist who saw Kalibasib said the cloudi­ness was due to a scratch in the eye. The an­i­mal still re­acts to light, he said, and is thus not blind. Not just yet.

Re­tir­ing

At 19, Kalibasib is al­ready old (the aver­age life span of the rare buf­fa­los is up to 20 to 25 years), and it might take a while for his eye to heal, said Tere­sita David, co­or­di­na­tor for the Tama­raw Con­ser­va­tion Project (TCP), a pro­gram un­der the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment and Nat­u­ral Re­sources.

“We are wor­ried, though, that he might have to re­tire soon [be­cause of old age],” David said.

Kalibasib had its third quar­terly health checkup in Oc­to­ber, in­ci­den­tally the month ded­i­cated to the con­ser­va­tion and pro­tec­tion of tama­raws in Mindoro. The species is en­demic to the is­land and listed as crit­i­cally en­dan­gered.

Star at­trac­tion

Kalibasib is about a me­ter tall and weighs just as much as a “2-year-old carabao,” David said. Gen­er­ally con­sid­ered in good health, he is the gene pool’s star at­trac­tion.

Last year, many of the 95,846 tourists who vis­ited the more ur­ban neigh­bor­ing town of San Jose did not miss the chance to see the tama­raw up close.

The trip to the 280hectare fa­cil­ity at Barangay Manoot in Rizal town re­quires a lit­tle trekking amid the pic­turesque view of the moun­tains and cross­ing a foot­bridge hang­ing above a shal­low river.

Kalibasib stands for “Ka­likasan Bagong Si­bol” ( na­ture newly sprung), a name fit­ting for the only dwarf buf­falo pro­duced and has sur­vived this long at the breed­ing cen­ter.

An­other cap­tive-bred tama­raw did not last a year.

Kalibasib’s mother, Mimi, was among the 20 adult tama­raws taken from the wild when the Tama­raw Gene Pool Farm was opened in 1980. But the off­spring were still­born and the adults even­tu­ally died from pests and dis­eases, the most com­mon of which were liver fluke and pneu­mo­nia.

“Aside from old age, they are not used to be­ing con­fined. They are roam­ing an­i­mals in their nat­u­ral habi­tat,” David said. Kalibasib roams alone in the 4,028-square-me­ter fenced range.

Fail­ure

“To many, [cap­tive breed­ing] may have been a fail­ure,” David said. “But on a brighter side, it has bred two [an­i­mals] and with Kali (Kalibasib) sur­viv­ing 19 years. Con­sid­er­ing the [lack of] tech­nol­ogy [back then], let’s give it to the pro­gram,” she added.

Kalibasib has grown ac­cus­tomed to peo­ple, gamely reach­ing with its mouth a ba­nana fed through the fence by vis­i­tors. This is in stark con­trast to tama­raw be­hav­ior in the wild that is gen­er­ally ter­ri­to­rial and elu­sive, said Onie Ordo, 35, a tama­raw watch­man for eight years now.

On Mt. Iglit-Baco, a pro­tected area that is home to the big­gest tama­raw pop­u­la­tion (523), the clos­est peo­ple can get is at 25 me­ters. They view tama­raws through binoc­u­lars.

Threats

“I talk to him some­times and ask him if he’s hun­gry,” Ordo said of Kalibasib. Some­times, he said, he pities the tama­raw when it jumps at the sight of a pass­ing carabao, as if it wants to join the herd.

“But we couldn’t let him out,” Ordo said. “He’s not used to their ways in the wild and he might just get killed.”

Poach­ing and hunt­ing by the in­dige­nous Mangyan and low­lan­ders re­main a threat to tama­raws, though years of con­ser­va­tion ef­forts by govern­ment and non­govern­ment groups pay off with more re­cent sight­ings of tama­raws.

David said 10 to 15 head were seen on Mt. Aruyan and 60 to 70 more at Am­nay Wa­ter­shed.

The govern­ment is plan­ning sev­eral more expeditions next year to ex­plore pos­si­ble habi­tats. But the big­ger chal­lenge is balanc­ing wildlife pro­tec­tion and re­spect­ing in­dige­nous peo­ples’ rights.

“The Mangyan tell us they used to live with the tama­raws un­til civ­i­liza­tion drove them up to the moun­tains. They be­lieve that if the tama­raws be­come ex- tinct, they would, too. The Mangyan and the tama­raws co­ex­ist,” David said.

Dif­fer­ent

“We en­cour­age Filipinos to go see Kali. It’s not like just see­ing [its pic­ture] from a book. [Tama­raws] are a part of our be­ing Filipinos,” she said.

Af­ter the cap­tive breed­ing pro­gram was scrapped, the govern­ment con­verted the gene pool into a bio­di­ver­sity res­cue and con­ser­va­tion cen­ter where a res­cued croc­o­dile, named Oca, and two Philip­pine pond tur­tles are be­ing taken care of.

The TCP, in partnership with the Philip­pine Carabao Cen­ter and the Depart­ment of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy, plans to put up a lab­o­ra­tory on site and a tama­raw sperm bank.

David said the plan was to col­lect sperm from Kalibasib and have it pre­served. For what spe­cific pur­pose is still un­clear, she said.

What’s cer­tain is they have to do it sooner be­fore time runs out on the ag­ing tama­raw.

—PHO­TOS BY CLIF­FORD NUÑEZ

MINDORO’S PRIDE Only ex­pe­ri­enced tama­raw watch­men, like Onie Ordo, can get close to Kalibasib in­side the pen of the dwarf wa­ter buf­falo, which is en­demic to Mindoro is­land. Photo be­low shows a herd of crit­i­cally en­dan­gered tama­raws roam­ing on Mt. Iglit-Baco.

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