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

Natural therapy shows promise for dry-eye disease

Castor oil has been proposed as a natural product that could offer a safe, effective and easy-to-use alternative to existing therapies.

Published

on

Researchers at the University of Auckland are running a trial of castor oil as a potential safe and natural treatment for dry-eye disease following a successful pilot study.

While exact figures aren’t available for New Zealand, in Australia, it is estimated dry-eye disease affects around 58% of the population aged over 50. Advancing age, menopause, increased screen time, contact lens wear are just some of the risk factors for developing dry eye disease.

Blepharitis is the most common cause of dry-eye disease, accounting for more than 80 percent of cases. It is a chronic condition with no known cure.

“Currently, patients are left grappling with symptoms of dryness, grittiness and, in some cases, watery eyes that feel uncomfortable impacting on their quality of life and work productivity,” says doctoral candidate and lead clinical investigator Catherine Jennings.

Current treatments, such as antibacterials and anti-inflammatories, are generally unsuitable for long-term use, due to significant side-effects and potential for antimicrobial resistance.

“Often patients are left feeling helpless when attempting to manage a chronic condition,” Jennings says.

The current trial is of a product containing cold-pressed castor oil enhanced with mānuka and kanuka oils applied using a rollerball attached to a small glass bottle.

“The previous pilot study, conducted by our research team, was unique in its use of castor oil in such an application on the eyelids, with the product not known to be used anywhere else in the world for treating blepharitis,” says Jennings.

Castor oil comes from a flowering tropical or subtropical shrub from the species Riccinus communis. It has been used therapeutically for millenia, including more recently in eye cosmetics and eye makeup removers.

In the pilot study, 26 patients with blepharitis were treated with cold-pressed castor oil over four weeks. They had measurable improvements in symptoms, such as reduced redness of the lid margin, decreased thickening of the eyelid, and a decline in bacterial profusion, as well as reduced eyelash crusting.

Building on the success of the pilot study, the research team is now engaged in the more extensive double-blinded, randomised and placebo-controlled study. They are aiming to recruit 92 participants and generate robust scientific evidence for clinicians.

The ultimate goal is to sustainably improve quality of life for this large group of patients using a natural, safe and effective product, principal investigator Professor Jennifer Craig says.

“Castor oil has been proposed as a natural product that could offer a safe, effective and easy-to-use alternative to existing therapies,” Craig says.

“My hope is this study will produce evidence-based guidance for clinicians with regard to offering castor oil as a possible management option for patients suffering from blepharitis, so they continue to enjoy a great quality of life, read the books they love, be productive in their work environment and enjoy other visual hobbies.”

Continue Reading

NewsMakers

For epilepsy, yoga may be good for your mind

People who did yoga were more than four times as likely to have more than a 50% reduction in their seizure frequency after six months than the people who did sham yoga.

Published

on

For people with epilepsy, doing yoga may help reduce feelings of stigma about the disease along with reducing seizure frequency and anxiety, according to new research published in the November 8, 2023, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“People with epilepsy often face stigma that can cause them to feel different than others due to their own health condition and that can have a significant impact on their quality of life,” said study author Manjari Tripathi, MD, DM, of All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. “This stigma can affect a person’s life in many ways including treatment, emergency department visits and poor mental health. Our study showed that doing yoga can alleviate the burden of epilepsy and improve the overall quality of life by reducing this perceived stigma.” 

For the study, researchers looked at people with epilepsy with an average age of 30 in India.

Researchers measured stigma based on participants’ answers to questions such as: “Do you feel other people discriminate against you?” “Do you feel you cannot contribute anything in society?” and “Do you feel different from other people?”

Researchers then identified 160 people who met the criteria for experiencing stigma. Participants had an average of one seizure per week and on average took at least two anti-seizure medications.

Researchers then randomly assigned participants to receive yoga therapy or sham yoga therapy. Yoga therapy included exercises in loosening muscles, breathing, meditation and positive affirmations. Sham yoga consisted of exercises that mimic the same yoga exercises, but participants were not given instructions on two key components of yoga believed to induce a relaxation response: slow and synchronized breathing, and attention to the body movements and sensations during practice.

Each group received seven supervised group sessions of 45 to 60 minutes over three months. Participants were also asked to practice sessions at home at least five times a week for 30 minutes. They tracked seizures and yoga sessions in a journal. After the three months of therapy, participants were followed for another three months.

Researchers found when compared to people who did sham yoga, people who did yoga were more likely to reduce their perceived stigma of the disease. People who did yoga had an average score of seven at the start of the study and an average score of four at the end of the study, while people who did sham yoga had an increase from an average score of six at the start of the study to an average score of seven at the end.

Researchers also found that people who did yoga were more than four times as likely to have more than a 50% reduction in their seizure frequency after six months than the people who did sham yoga.

In addition, people who did yoga were more than seven times more likely to no longer have seizures than those who did sham yoga.

There was also a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms for people who did yoga versus people who did not. They saw improvements in quality of life measures and mindfulness.

“These study findings elevate the need to consider alternative therapies and activities for people with epilepsy facing stigma,” said Tripathi. “Yoga may not only help reduce stigma, but also improve quality of life and mindfulness. Plus, yoga can be easily prerecorded and shared with patients online using minimal resources and costs.”

Continue Reading

NewsMakers

Eating a vegan diet could reduce grocery bill 16%, saving over $500 a year – study

Total food costs decreased in the vegan group by 16%, or $1.51 per day, compared with no significant change in the control group. This decrease was mainly attributable to savings on meat, -$1.77 per day, and dairy, -$0.74 per day. Changes in purchases of other food groups (e.g., eggs and added fats) also contributed to the observed savings.

Published

on

Food costs decrease 16% on a low-fat vegan diet, a savings of more than $500 a year, compared to a diet that includes meat, dairy, and other animal products, according to a new analysis from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine published in JAMA Network Open.

“We knew that a vegan diet significantly reduces your risk of conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity—and now we have proof that opting for beans instead of beef will also lead to significant savings on your grocery bill,” says study co-author Hana Kahleova, MD, PhD, director of clinical research at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

The research is an analysis of a Physicians Committee study in which participants were randomly assigned to a vegan group or control group. The vegan group was asked to follow a low-fat vegan diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes, while the control group was requested to make no diet changes. Calorie intake and food costs were not limited for either group.

For the food cost assessment, the participants’ dietary records were linked to food price data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Thrifty Food Plan, 2021.

Total food costs decreased in the vegan group by 16%, or $1.51 per day, compared with no significant change in the control group. This decrease was mainly attributable to savings on meat, -$1.77 per day, and dairy, -$0.74 per day. Changes in purchases of other food groups (e.g., eggs and added fats) also contributed to the observed savings.

These savings outweighed the increased spending on vegetables, +$1.03 per day; fruits, +$0.40 per day; legumes, +$0.30 per day; whole grains, +$0.30 per day, and meat and dairy alternatives.

The findings support previous research showing that a plant-based diet provides more cost savings than one that includes animal products.

In addition to the cost savings, the study found that a low-fat vegan diet resulted in weight loss and improved body composition and insulin sensitivity in overweight adults.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Like Us On Facebook

Facebook Pagelike Widget

Most Popular

Copyright ©FRINGE PUBLISHING. All rights reserved.