Undying legend of Kalibasib, the world’s last captive-bred tamaraw

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Undying legend of Kalibasib, the world’s last captive-bred tamaraw

At the age of 21, Kalibasib, the last captive-bred Philippine tamaraw, died in the afternoon of October 10, 2020. Kali, as he was nicknamed, was under the care of Tamaraw Conservation Program (TCP) at the Tamaraw Gene Pool Farm located at Manoot, Rizal in the province of Occidental Mindoro. 

The tamaraw, or Bubalus mindorensis, is an endemic species and can be found only in the island of Mindoro, Philippines. Although well-known, this hoofed mammal is critically endangered. In the early 1990’s, Mimi, one of the feisty tamaraws captured by the experts in the tamaraw habitat in Sablayan, gave birth to Kalibasib on June 24, 1999 at the Gene Pool Farm. Kalibasib is the only tamaraw that survived beyond infancy in the captive breeding program of TCP. After his mother Mimi died on August 11, 2012, Kali is the last remaining tamaraw inside the Gene Pool Farm until his last breath. 

“‘Kalibasib’ is a portmanteau of the longer name Kalikasang Bagong Sibol, or “Nature Newly Sprung”. We had a contest before, when he [Kalibasib] was born, to name a tamaraw,” said Neil Anthony Del Mundo, Coordinator of TCP. Kalibasib won the naming contest, and it was what the world called this iconic tamaraw. 

Concerning his breed, despite being one of the endangered species, Kalibasib’s contribution to the community is undeniably substantial. He served and fulfilled people’s curiosity on witnessing an actual tamaraw as he is the closest to them, but unfortunately, Kalibasib’s living presence came to an end. 

“It was so sudden, more like a heart attack in humans. The ranger assigned at the Gene Pool Farm witnessed his death,” said Del Mundo. According to his necropsy result, Kalibasib died due to left-sided cardiac failure. There are no signs, or symptoms, before he passed away. It is also due to old age. Dr. Mikko Angelo Reyes, a Mindoro-based wildlife veterinarian is the only health wildlife expert who monitored Kalibasib’s health, and who also performed the necropsy on the deceased tamaraw’s body. 

Kalibasib was indeed an iconic tamaraw for reaching 21 years of existence. The normal average lifespan of a tamaraw, also known as the Mindoro dwarf buffalo, is estimated to be around 20-25 years. 

His death brought a massive impact to TCP and to Mindoreños as well, as they lost the last cherished rare breed of buffalo and greatest treasure of Mindoro. To persist the legendary history of Kalibasib, TCP decided to preserve some important parts of his body.

In the meantime, Kalibasib’s body parts are being prepared for preservation. It is to maintain its prominent figure as a vigorous land mammal living in the island of Mindoro despite its demise. He may be permanently immovable, yet will be tangible and closer to jubilant people in town as they remember Mindoro’s pride and one of the island’s undying legends. 

“We already sent some of Kali’s body parts, such as head, skin, and his stature to Quezon City for taxidermy, to be preserved and be put in a museum. We also got a tissue sample of Kalibasib and made a DNA analysis of it to be used as reference,” Del Mundo added. 

On the other hand, TCP, as well as the Gene Pool Farm, will continue to perform their duties and responsibilities in protecting tamaraws in the wild. Their primary goal is to protect and proliferate animals in their natural habitat. 

“The Tamaraw Gene Pool Farm will continue on its operation, as it is not only a captive breeding facility of TCP, but also our Mindoro Biodiversity and Wildlife Rescue Center is also in there and managed by TCP. Actually, there are already turned over animals in the Gene Pool including crocodiles, turtles, birds, and monkeys for rehabilitation. When they are competent in surviving, they will be released into the wild.” Del Mundo said. 

Tamaraw Conservation Program (TCP) is a government agency mandated for the conservation of the tamaraw. It was established on July 14, 1979 through the Presidential Decree of President Ferdinand Marcos, according to Del Mundo. 

“One of the components of TCP is captive breeding in the late 80’s and early 90’s for tamaraws from the wild, putting them in the Tamaraw Gene Pool Farm with the goal of establishing a population in the [facility], so that we have a fallback population if ever something happens to the tamaraws in the wild,” Del Mundo said. 

The Gene Pool Farm started operating in 1983 at Manoot municipality of Rizal. It is a forest-like area, with land measuring 280 hectares, and surrounded by fences to prevent animals from escaping, and to protect them from other wild animals outside the farm. 

“We have plans on conducting a feasibility study for translocation to do captive-breeding again but, we are not yet sure if we will be doing it in this gene pool or in other places,” Del Mundo also added.

This article was written by Maria Aura Crisha Macawili from Occidental Mindoro as a final requirement of AYEJ.org and the US Embassy’s “Green Beat Islas: An Online Environmental Journalism Training.”

Featured photo from Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap.

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