Connect with us

Spotlight

Tiis pilipit: Mangyan tribesmen, tamaraw threatened by hunger and disease

For the reclusive Taw’buid, death and disease are part of life, hindering them from protecting an animal they revere – the critically-endangered tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis), only 600 of which remain today.

Published

on

SPECIAL REPORT BY GREGG YAN

The old chief exhaled and the hut was enveloped in blue smoke. “I remember,” whispered Fausto Novelozo, chief of the Taw’buid tribe. “That a sickness drove us from the mountains. Measles we got from siganon or lowland visitors. Half our village of 200 died.” 

We’re in the village of Tamisan Dos, one of two newly-established Mangyan communities at the foothills of the Iglit-Baco Natural Park in the province of Mindoro Occidental. Measles drove Fausto’s people closer to town, where they can have better access to western medicine. 

Most people don’t consider disease a major threat to biodiversity. But diseases ranging from Coronavirus to African Swine Fever and Ebola have spread worldwide, taking thousands of lives and causing billions in economic damage.

For the reclusive Taw’buid, death and disease are part of life, hindering them from protecting an animal they revere – the critically-endangered tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis), only 600 of which remain today.

Environmentalist Gregg Yan helps various institutions share stories from the field. (Ramil Lumanglas)

Living deep in forests, tribal communities are plagued not just by blood-sucking leeches, malarial mosquitoes and venomous snakes – but a lack of clean water, poor sanitation, poor nutrition and inadequate medical knowledge. With hospitals often several days’ journey away, many ailing tribesfolk die on their way to treatment.

Malaria, tuberculosis, measles and other diseases have always taken a steady toll on Mindoro’s Mangyan population, estimated at 200,000. About 60% of Mangyan children are malnourished and almost all go hungry during the rainy season which lasts from June to October. With torrential rains turning Mindoro’s streams into raging rivers, many cannot visit their upland ricefields and must hunt or gather whatever food they can.

“We call this period tiis-pilipit (to twist in hunger) and we must make do,” says Taw’buid gatherer Robar, tiredly raising the day’s catch. “We are lucky. We caught some rats and frogs today.”

 Taw’buid gatherer Robar showing the catch of the day – rats and frogs. Heavy rain makes traveling through the mountains especially hazardous from the months of June to October. “We call this period tiis-pilipit (to twist in hunger) and we must make do.” (Gregg Yan)

With limited healthcare access, tribesfolk have traditionally relied on medicinal plants to deal with cough, colds, fever, skin diseases, intestinal parasites, diarrhea and other common ailments. The Taw’buid for instance use bungarngar to treat stomachaches, pito-pito to relieve pain and salimbayong for healing open wounds. A 1984 study by Garan and Quintana identified 128 medicinal plant species used by various Mangyan tribes.

“Isolated communities are especially vulnerable to diseases from the outside world because immune responses have yet to be developed,” says medical anthropologist Gideon Lasco. “Limited access to healthcare and fear of hospitals also keeps them from seeking treatment.” 

People From Above

Taw’buid means ‘people from above’ and is among two names the tribe calls itself – the other being Batangan or ‘felled forest.’ Close to 20,000 inhabit Mindoro’s central highlands, making them the largest of the eight tribes collectively called Mangyans by lowlanders – the others being the Alangan, Bangon, Buhid, Hanunuo, Iraya, Ratagnon and Tadyawan

Many still sport loincloths called amakan, hunt game with spears called tulag, bows called gadun and spike traps called silo. Unlike other Mangyan who chew betel-nut, nearly all Taw’buid men smoke a combination of papaya and tobacco – children included.

Once occupying Mindoro’s lowlands, they were pushed into the mountains by both Spanish colonizers and Filipino immigrants. Their home forests too have retreated – with thousands of hectares converted into grazing land or rice paddies. As a people, the Taw’buid are peaceful, secretive and deeply animistic – careful not to rouse the anger of their gods including Alulaba, lord of rivers and waterways, or Mangyan Muyod, lord of the mountains. 

Contact with the Taw’buid has been established through missionary groups and the Tamaraw Conservation Programme (TCP), which employs tribesmen as trackers and rangers. 

For the Taw’buid, serving as a ranger is an honor and a stepping-stone to become a fufu-ama or tribal elder – making them natural allies to conserve the world’s most endangered buffalo. Fufu-amas Henry Timuyog, Fuldo Gonzales, Oskar Bongray and Pedro Salonga are some of the many Taw’buid who have served as TCP rangers. “We welcome them for their bushcraft and field skills,” shares TCP head Neil Anthony Del Mundo as we trudge closer to the grassy peaks inhabited by herds of tamaraw.

 Tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis) are endemic forest buffalo found only on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines. Numbering only about 600, they are considered critically-endangered by the IUCN. Adults stand a meter at the shoulder and weigh around 300 kilogrammes. Bulls are larger, darker and solitary, while cows tend their calves in close-knit groups. Lobbyists are pushing for it to become the country’s national land animal. (Gregg Yan)

Disease Outbreaks 

A century ago, disease nearly wiped out the tamaraw – it’s also disease which threatens its protectors. 

The island of Mindoro has a long history of disease. The island was largely bereft of human settlement in the 1800s because of malaria but was home to an estimated 10,000 tamaraw, a small dwarf buffalo with distinctive V-shaped horns that roamed its dense forests and wide rolling fields. But a century later, the island became a prime pastureland and the forests and open fields turned into a hunting ground for poachers armed with high-caliber weapons like M14 and M16 rifles.

By 1969, the outbreak of rinderpest and avid sport hunting drove the tamaraw population below 100, prompting the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to declare the species as critically endangered.

Decades of conservation led by the Tamaraw Conservation Programme (TCP), Biodiversity Management Bureau, Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park (MIBNP) and a host of allies including the Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) of the United Nations Development Programme and Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Incorporated, D’Aboville Foundation, Global Wildlife Conservation, World Wide Fund for Nature, Far Eastern University, Eco Explorations and the Taw’buid people led by chief Fausto Novelozo, prevented the bovine’s extinction, helping tamaraw numbers recover to around 600.

Today the animals are confined to four isolated areas in Mindoro, all vulnerable to disease. “Bovine tuberculosis, hemosep and anthrax can enter Mindoro if we’re not careful,” explains Dr. Mikko Angelo Reyes, a Mindoro-based veterinarian. “The key is biosecurity, the prevention of disease through quarantine, inoculation and immunization. We should ensure that at the very least, animals entering the island are checked for sickness. We should also establish and respect buffer zones around protected areas, which are often rung by farms and livestock.”

Like the siganon visitors to chief Fausto’s village, imported cattle can spread diseases which tamaraw have not developed immunities to. The Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park (MIBNP) spans 106,655 hectares. It is currently surrounded by 3000 cattle belonging to 30 ranchers.

Fufu Ama or tribal elder Ben Mitra with a gadun or short bow, used for hunting small prey like birds and lizards. The Taw’buid are the most numerous of Mindoro’s eight ethnolinguistic groups. Though they revere the tamaraw, they also engage in slash-and-burn farming and set-up both spike traps and snares to snag wildlife. (Gregg Yan)

Preventing Outbreaks

Together, TCP and MIBNP rangers work to ward off poachers, dismantle spring-loaded balatik and deadly silo snare traps while keeping disease outbreaks to a minimum – preventing cattle from intruding into the park and giving the park’s indigenous people medicine and employment so they can buy supplies.

To gather much-needed resources for this, BIOFIN is helping raise funds via donations. “A little help goes a long way. We ask fellow Pinoys to donate just a bit to save the Taw’buid, tamaraw and the rangers keeping everything working,” says BIOFIN Philippines project manager Anabelle Plantilla. 

The nationwide lockdowns spurred by COVID-19 is also taking a toll on communities and institutions dependent on ecotourism revenues. UNDP is preparing crowdfunding campaigns in the Philippines and other nations to keep these communities afloat – especially as government funds are being redirected to fight the growing pandemic.

Since its inception in 2012, BIOFIN has worked with both the public and private sectors to enhance protection for the country’s biodiversity hotspots by helping secure funds to implement sound biodiversity programs. BIOFIN’s second phase in the Philippines runs from 2018 to 2022 and includes the implementation of finance solutions to raise resources for the tamaraw and other endangered species through creative crowdfunding from corporations, government units, schools and individuals.  

Punong Tribo Fausto Novelozo gathering vegetables at the foothills of the Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park in Occidental Mindoro. At 66, he is the chief of the Taw’buid, the most numerous of Mindoro’s eight ethnolinguistic groups. The son of the previous chief, he lived near the Philippine capital of Manila for several years before returning to lead his tribe. An excellent conservation ally, he actively convinces other tribesfolk to stop setting-up traps for tamaraw. (Gregg Yan)

* * * 

Back in the Iglit-Baco Park, a weathered man in a loincloth emerged from a field of upland corn. “Help us. We need medicine,” coughed Ben Mitra, a Taw’buid fufu-ama. Our column, already returning to the lowlands, stops to dig out whatever medicine we have left. 

“Fadi-fadi,” he says in Taw’buid, accepting our goods. Thank you.As we trek back down, I pray they’ll be spared from disease and the fate of chief Fausto’s now-abandoned forest village. Like many of the country’s protected areas, the Iglit-Baco Natural Park exists in a fragile balance. One outbreak is all it takes – but we can all pitch in to prevent it.

Contact biofin.ph@undp.org to know more.

Believing that everyone's perspective is important, Zest Magazine has opted to provide an avenue for these perspectives to be known. care to hear the publication's contributing writers; or better yet, do some contributing yourself by contacting info@zestmag.com.

NewsMakers

5 Tips when buying life insurance for the first time

A knowledgeable and professional insurance agent can offer trusted guidance when it comes to finding the right life insurance protection at the right price.

Published

on

Photo by Vlad Deep from Unsplash.com

Major life changes like getting married, starting a family or buying a house are often when people start thinking about buying life insurance. Now, more than ever, people are more concerned with their financial security. Buying a life policy can be a process that sounds intimidating or confusing – but it’s also very important.

During this Life Insurance Awareness Month, Erie Insurance shares five points to discuss with your agent when buying life insurance for the first time.

  1. Understand who (or what) you are protecting. While anyone experiencing a significant life event like getting married or starting a family often recognizes the need for life insurance, others may not realize they could benefit from it as well. For instance, stay-at-home parents and student loan cosigners could have a definite need for life insurance.
  2. Only buy the life insurance plan you can afford. Many people are surprised at how much life insurance they really need to protect the people and things they love most – but they are also surprised at how affordable it can be. If you cannot find a policy that fits in your budget, it’s a mistake to forgo any coverage at all. Something is definitely better than nothing.
  3. Think through your beneficiaries. A life insurance beneficiary is the person or entity you name in your life policy to receive funds in the event of your passing. Your beneficiary can be a person, business, trust, charity or even your church. And you can have more than one. It’s important to make sure you think through who your beneficiaries are and if any proceeds meant to benefit a minor should be held in a trust.
  4. Buy from a financially sound company. You want the backing of a financially strong insurer if you or someone you love needs to call on the life insurance policy. A.M. Best, the largest and longest-established company devoted to issuing in-depth reports and financial strength ratings about insurance organizations, gave Erie Family Life Insurance Company a rating of A (Excellent).
  5. Consider current and future needs. Don’t just consider your current lifestyle, keep in mind your future needs and what those could include for your spouse, children or business (think college expenses, weddings, etc.). By taking in these considerations today, you’re investing in the security of your future. Life insurance is less expensive than most people think—and that’s especially true when you’re younger. 

A knowledgeable and professional insurance agent can offer trusted guidance when it comes to finding the right life insurance protection at the right price. Life insurance with Erie Family Life offers you the right coverage with flexible options, helping you to build a policy now that is adaptable later.

Continue Reading

NewsMakers

Online menus should put healthy food first

Women who see healthy food at the top of an online menu are 30 to 40 percent more likely to order it, a Flinders University study has found, with the authors saying menu placement could play a role in encouraging healthier eating.

Published

on

Photo by Drahomír Posteby-Mach from Unsplash.com

Women who see healthy food at the top of an online menu are 30 to 40 percent more likely to order it, a Flinders University study has found, with the authors saying menu placement could play a role in encouraging healthier eating.

Published in the journal Appetite and led by Flinders University PhD Candidate Indah Gynell, the team investigated where on a menu healthy items should be placed to best encourage people to choose them.

“Previous research has explored menu placement before, but the studies were inconsistent, with some finding placing food items at the top and bottom of a menu increased their popularity, while others suggested that the middle is best,” said Ms Gynell from Flinders’ College of Education, Psychology and Social Work.

“In our study we compared three locations on both printed and online menus, with online being an important addition in the age of food ordering platforms, such as UberEats and Menulog, especially during the pandemic.”

The researchers created menus containing eight unhealthy items and four healthy items, arranged in three rows of four on the physical printed menu and in one column of 12 on the digital menu. In one study, the physical menu was tested on 172 female participants, while in the second study, the digital menu was tested on 182 female participants.

Female participants were chosen as previous research has found that dieting behaviours – likely to impact menu choice – are consistently more prevalent in women.

Participants then chose an item from one of the experimental menus before completing a psychological test that identified their ‘dietary restraint status’; that is whether or not they were actively choosing to restrict their eating habits for the purpose of health or weight loss.

“We found that neither the order of food items, nor participants’ dietary restraint status, impacted whether or not healthy food was chosen in the physical menus,” says Ms Gynell.

“However, for the online menus, we found that participants who saw healthy items at the top of an online menu were 30-40% more likely to choose a healthy item than those who viewed them further down the menu.”

The authors say the finding is important because if added up over time, consistent healthy choices could result in general health benefits at a population level, highlighting why such an intervention could be worth implementing.

“Diet-related illnesses and disease are more common now than ever before, and with a rise in online food ordering it’s important we uncover cost-effective and simple public health initiatives,” says Ms Gynell.

“Changing the order of a menu, which doesn’t require the addition or removal of items, is unlikely to impact profits as consumers are guided towards healthier options without being discouraged from purchasing altogether.

“This means it’s more likely to be accepted by food purveyors and, despite being a somewhat simple solution, has the potential to shape real-world healthy eating interventions.”

The effect of item placement on snack food choices from physical and online menus by Indah Gynell, Eva Kemps, Ivanka Prichard and Marika Tiggemann is published in the journal Appetite.

Continue Reading

NewsMakers

Serving larger portions of veggies may increase young kids’ veggie consumption

The researchers found that while the larger portions of vegetables were associated with greater intake, the addition of butter and salt was not. The children also reported liking both versions — seasoned and unseasoned — about the same. About 76% of kids rated the vegetables as “yummy” or “just ok.”

Published

on

Photo by Nadine Primeau from Unsplash.com

It can be difficult to get young kids to eat enough vegetables, but a new Penn State study found that simply adding more veggies to their plates resulted in children consuming more vegetables at the meal.

The researchers found that when they doubled the amount of corn and broccoli served at a meal — from 60 to 120 grams — the children ate 68% more of the veggies, or an additional 21 grams. Seasoning the vegetables with butter and salt, however, did not affect consumption.

The daily recommended amount of vegetables for kids is about 1.5 cups a day, according to the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans as set by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

“The increase we observed is equal to about one third of a serving or 12% of the daily recommended intake for young children,” said Hanim Diktas, graduate student in nutritional sciences. “Using this strategy may be useful to parents, caregivers and teachers who are trying to encourage kids to eat the recommended amount of vegetables throughout the day.”

Barbara Rolls, Helen A. Guthrie Chair and director of the Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behavior at Penn State, said the findings — recently published in the journal Appetite — support the MyPlate guidance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which recommends meals high in fruits and vegetables.

“It’s important to serve your kids a lot of vegetables, but it’s also important to serve them ones they like because they have to compete with the other foods on the plate,” Rolls said. “Parents can ease into this by gradually exposing kids to new vegetables, cooking them in a way their child enjoys, and experimenting with different flavors and seasonings as you familiarize them.”

According to the researchers, the majority of children in the U.S. don’t eat the recommended daily amount of vegetables, which could possibly be explained by children having a low preference for them. And while serving larger portions has been found to increase the amount of food children eat — called the “portion size effect” — kids tend to eat smaller amounts of vegetables in response to bigger portions compared to other foods.

For this study, the researchers were curious if increasing just the amount of vegetables while keeping the portions of other foods the same would help increase veggie consumption in kids. They also wanted to experiment with whether adding light butter and salt to the vegetables would increase their palatability and also affect consumption.

For the study, the researchers recruited 67 children between the ages of three and five. Once a week for four weeks, the participants were served lunch with one of four different preparations of vegetables: a regular-sized serving of plain corn and broccoli, a regular-sized serving with added butter and salt, a doubled serving of plain corn and broccoli, and a doubled serving with added butter and salt.

During each meal, the vegetables were served alongside fish sticks, rice, applesauce and milk. Foods were weighed before and after the meal to measure consumption.

“We chose foods that were generally well-liked but also not the kids’ favorite foods,” Rolls said. “If you offer vegetables alongside, say, chicken nuggets you might be disappointed. Food pairings are something you need to be conscious of, because how palpable the vegetables are compared to the other foods on the plate is going to affect the response to portion size. You need to make sure your vegetables taste pretty good compared to the other foods.”

After analyzing the results, the researchers found that while the larger portions of vegetables were associated with greater intake, the addition of butter and salt was not. The children also reported liking both versions — seasoned and unseasoned — about the same. About 76% of kids rated the vegetables as “yummy” or “just ok.”

“We were surprised that the butter and salt weren’t needed to improve intake, but the vegetables we served were corn and broccoli, which may have been already familiar to and well-liked by the kids,” Diktas said. “So for less familiar vegetables, it’s possible some extra flavoring might help to increase intake.”

Diktas said that while serving larger portions may increase vegetable consumption, it also has the potential to increase waste if kids don’t eat all of the food that is served.

“We’re working on additional research that looks into substituting vegetables for other food instead of just adding more vegetables,” Diktas said. “In the future, we may be able to give recommendations about portion size and substituting vegetables for other foods, so we can both limit waste and promote veggie intake in children.”

Liane Roe, research nutritionist; Kathleen Keller, associate professor of nutritional sciences; and Christine Sanchez, lab manager at the Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behavior, also participated in this work.

Continue Reading

Most Popular

Copyright ©FRINGE PUBLISHING. All rights reserved.