DENR mulls over use of satellite telemetry to monitor endangered Philippine tamaraw

THE Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is eyeing to employ satellite tracking device to improve its monitoring of the critically endangered Philippine tamaraw on Mindoro island.

“We plan to use a satellite-tracking device to 20 sample tamaraws to monitor their movements. That way, we will have an idea of where our tamaraws are lurking,” Rodel Boyles, the community environment and natural resources officer (Cenro) of Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro, told the BusinessMirror in an interview.

Also called the Mindoro dwarf buffalo, the tamaraw can only be found on Mindoro island.  In the 1970s the government launched the Tamaraw Conservation Program (TCP) to protect the remaining tamaraws and their habitats.

Boyles said the plan is to capture 20 tamaraws and attach a collar with the satellite tracking device.  But he said the plan would have to be approved by concerned DENR officials.

Without giving specifics, Boyles said the project will require huge funding.

The number of tamaraws spotted during the annual count in April is down to 408.  This is short of five heads compared with last year’s record of 413 heads.

Boyles, formerly the Protected Area Superintendent (PASu) of Mount Iglit-Baco Natural Park said more juveniles were observed during the count.

“We may have counted fewer tamaraws because we failed to clear some of the areas where they used to go to forage during the count,” he said.

Every year, he said, two weeks or one month before conducting the annual tamaraw count, the DENR makes it a point to clear the grasslands being observed by volunteers conducting the simultaneous assessment in three different areas.  This is being done to make the tamaraws more visible from afar.

“This year  we failed to clear some areas where they may have been hiding,” he said.

He added it is also possible some tamaraws have been foraging in other areas not being monitored.

“That is why we are planning to use satellite tracking device or telemetry,” he said.

Satellite telemetry is a powerful research tool that helps scientists track migratory animals.  The same technology is being used in researchers to track the movements of marine turtles.

Boyles said the  satellite tracking device will effectively track the tamaraws, allowing them to identify the areas they are foraging or staying.

The Mounts Iglit-Baco Park where the tamaraws are abundantly found covers a total area of 106,591 hectares, making it difficult for the DENR even with the help of hundreds to volunteer to track the elusive wild animals.

Meanwhile, Boyless said there is no plan to revive the captive breeding program, saying the tamaraws’ population is growing over the last several years, without human intervention.

In the 1970s the government captured 20 tamaraws but all of these eventually died except for a juvenile born in captivity.

The tamaraw named Kalibasib is more than 20 years old and is reaching his twilight zone.  A tamaraw’s life span ranges from 20 years to 25 years.  Kalibasib is now showing sign of old age, Boyles said.  However, he said there is no plan yet to capture more tamaraw for captive breeding or for tourism purposes.