Tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis)

Also known as: dwarf buffalo, Mindoro pygmy buffalo, tamarau
Synonyms: Anoa mindorensis, Bubalus arnee mindorensis
French: Tamarau
Spanish: Búfalo De Mindoro
GenusBubalus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 2.2 m (2)
Shoulder height: 1 m (2)
Weight220 – 300 kg (2)

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

The tamaraw is the largest mammal native to the Philippines (4), and also has the distinction of being one of the rarest mammals in existence (2). It is a small buffalo that resembles the Asiatic water buffalo (Bubalus mindorensis) in many ways except size (5). It has a robust body with dark brown to greyish-black hair and short, stocky legs (2) (4). Stout, powerful horns, measuring up to 51 centimetres, grow in a ‘V’ shape from the forehead, have a triangular cross-section and are covered with coarse grooves (4). A greyish-white stripe runs from the inner corner of the eye outwards and greyish-white patches are also found on the legs and neck (5). Tamaraw calves are born reddish-brown and attain the same colour as adults in about five years (5).

Endemic to Mindoro in the Philippines (4), an island that covers 9,735 square kilometres. Once widespread on Mindoro, the tamaraw is now restricted to just three (5), or possibly two, reserves (1).

The tamaraw is known to inhabit dense vegetation, often close to rivers, and marshy areas or grasslands near areas of forest, from the lowlands up to around 2,000 metres above sea level (4) (5). However, much of the original forest in its range has been replaced with grassland as a result of human activities (2) (5).

The rare and wary tamaraw is largely a solitary animal (2) (4), although it may be seen in pairs during the breeding season or in small groups of four to seven individuals when feeding (4). It is said to rest in dense vegetation during the day and then emerge at night fall to feed (5). The tamaraw’s diet is known to include grasses (4), but it may also feed on ferns, saplings, palm, ginger and fallen fruit like closely related animals do (2). It visits nearby rivers and streams to drink and also frequents mud wallows (5).

The tamaraw mates during Mindoro’s dry season (December to May), and the young are born throughout the rainy season (June to November) when the weather is cool and there is an abundance of green vegetation (2) (5). The tamaraw gives birth every two years (4), and the young become dependent from the mother between the ages of two and four years (2) (4).

Said to be very suspicious of humans, the fierceness of the tamaraw is widely reported (4) (5). Tamaraws threaten other tamaraws by lowering their head and shaking their horns and if cornered, it is said to charge the pursuer (5). As a result, hunters were said to prefer to shoot it from a platform high in the trees (4).

Since the early 1900s, numbers of the tamaraw have been declining and this Critically Endangered mammal is now teetering on the edge of extinction (5). Sport hunting, poaching for food, and habitat destruction have all been cited as the causes behind the tamaraw’s precarious present day situation (5), as well as an outbreak of rinderpest in the Philippines in the 1930s (5). Its head was once a valued trophy of hunters and many local people depended on it as a source of meat (4).

The surviving tamaraw population remains threatened by habitat destruction, caused by human settlers within the reserves in which they are now restricted (6). This includes cattle ranching, which destroys the tamaraw’s habitat and increases the likelihood of outbreaks of infectious livestock diseases. Hunting also continues to pose a serious threat, with poaching known to occur in the reserves (6).

Despite significant efforts to protect the tamaraw, numbers remain alarmingly low (6). The tamaraw is fully protected under Philippine law (1) and the Iglit-Baco National Park (now also known as the Mangyan Heritage Park (5)) was established for its protection (2), although this area is not exempt from being impacted by the threats mentioned above. In 1979, the Tamaraw Conservation Program was initiated with the aim of safeguarding the tamaraw and its habitat, undertaking population and habitat surveys, reforestation programs, and educational campaigns, although there is some concern over how well any of these measures have been so far been achieved (6).

For further information on the tamaraw see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)