A tamaraw, a critically endangered species, was shot and butchered by poachers who escaped apprehending authorities recently.
Alert rangers spotted the poachers drying meat near the base of Mt. McGowen inside the Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park (MIBNP) on August 28, said a news release from the United Nations Development Programme’s Biodiversity Finance Initiative (UNDP-Biofin).
Two poachers were quickly surrounded and caught by park rangers and wardens, while a third escaped.
Two pugakang (homemade shotguns) were confiscated, as well as a sack of tamaraw meat, to be dried and illegally sold as tapa, or buffalo bush jerky.
“We’ll eat some of the meat and sell the rest on the market,” remarked one of the poachers in Filipino.
After three hours in custody, the two apprehended poachers ran off and escaped into the jungle.
The tamaraw is the world’s most endangered buffalo species and is considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered, the highest risk-rating for any species.
Only around 600 tamaraw are left worldwide, most found in four isolated areas in Mindoro.
They are legally protected under the Wildlife Act, or Republic Act 9147. Killing endangered wildlife entails up to 12 years of jail time plus a fine of up to P1 million.
“Poachers might be using the Covid-19 lockdown as an opportunity to illegally enter our country’s protected areas and hunt animals. Rest assured that our rangers won’t stand for this. We’ll see to it that these poachers are prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” vowed Tamaraw Conservation Program (TCP) Head Neil Anthony del Mundo.
Dedicated rangers and wardens of TCP and MIBNP have been conserving the tamaraw for decades. From less than 100 animals in 1969, the number increased to about 600.
Despite being underequipped and underfunded, TCP’s rangers and wardens continue patrolling forestland to protect the tamaraw—facing armed poachers, snakes, leeches, flash floods and hidden animal traps on a daily basis.
Just one of TCP’s 24 rangers is a regular employee with benefits. One ranger plus 32 of the 35 park wardens recently lost their jobs when the park closed due to the pandemic.
“DENR [Department of Environment and Natural Resources] strongly condemns this act of slaughtering endangered wildlife,” said DENR Assistant Secretary Ricardo Calderon.
“Nothing, not even the pandemic, is an excuse to kill legally protected wildlife for no one is above the law. We will work with both the DENR Mimaropa and the TCP to ensure that poachers get the punishment they deserve. Let this serve as a lesson for would-be poachers,” Calderon said.
The UNDP-Biofin and the DENR, and allies like PH Parks and Biodiversity have recently launched #TogetherforTamaraws and the Tamaraw Society to raise cash gifts for the rangers, particularly those most affected by the pandemic.
“Our tamaraw frontliners, who in spite of losing incomes due to the pandemic, continue their daily patrols without expectation of compensation just to ensure the safety of our tamaraw,” said Biofin Philippines Project Manager Anabelle Plantilla.
“It is high time and urgent that budgetary resources for environmental protection and enforcement be given utmost priority for protected areas, which are home to critically endangered and threatened species like the tamaraw,” Plantilla added.
Biofin hopes to raise approximately P1.149 million by October 2020 to help secure the sorely needed allowances and provisions for the tamaraw frontliners until January 2021. Plantilla enjoins everyone “to help the tamaraw frontliners by supporting #TogetherforTamaraws.”
“UNDP Philippines continues to support the rangers and wardens through the #TogetherforTamaraws campaign. Now more than ever, we need to join efforts to protect the tamaraw—a species in danger of extinction. We must protect what is left of our collective respect for life on Earth,” said UNDP Philippines Resident Representative Enrico Gaveglia.
Image credits: Tamaraw Conservation Programme