In a mountainous island in the Philippines, an indigenous group collectively known as Mangyans are sharing their home with the rarest buffalo in the world, the critically-endangered tamaraw.
The mountains of Iglit-Baco in Mindoro Island in the central region of the Philippines are home to the 480 of 600 remaining tamaraws in the wild. Within its 2,500-hectare protection zone are the ancestral domains of five Mangyan tribes — the Tau-buid, Buhid, Bangon, Tadyawan, and Hanunuo.
Philippine law recognizes the role of indigenous communities in biodiversity conservation. Aside from the Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997, the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act of 2018 or eNIPAS states that the indigenous people have the rights to “govern, maintain, develop, protect, and conserve” their ancestral domains including those within the protected area. The Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park ensures the representation of Mangyans in the decision-making process by providing seats for Mangyan leaders in its management board.
Among all Mangyan tribes, the Tau-buid has the largest number of communities. According to the latest count of D’Aboville Foundation, there are 70 Tau-buid settlements being led by 24 fagtaynans or tribal leaders. The tribal leaders are the ones who communicate with the outsiders including park rangers of Mounts Iglit-Baco. There are three supreme leaders who are constantly consulted on all the activities including patrolling, the scheduled treks of hikers, and even installation of infrastructure such as ranger stations and tourist facilities.
According to the Tamaraw Conservation Program (TCP), the Tau-buids are working closely with the park management in protecting and conserving the last frontier for Philippine tamaraws. To date, there 32 Mangyan wardens — 22 from the Tau-buid tribe and 10 from the Buhid. Other tribesmen served as guides and porters to tourists.
In 2018, the United Nations Development Programme’s BIOFIN Project organized a BioCamp to Mounts Iglit-Baco. The journalists and social influencers who participated became staunch advocates of tamaraw conservation. They have been using their influence to spotlight the issues being faced by the tamaraws, park rangers, and Tau-buid tribe.