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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Study shows potential dangers of sweeteners

At a concentration equivalent to two cans of diet soft drink, all three artificial sweeteners significantly increased the adhesion of both E. coli and E. faecalis to intestinal Caco-2 cells, and differentially increased the formation of biofilms.

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New research has discovered that common artificial sweeteners can cause previously healthy gut bacteria to become diseased and invade the gut wall, potentially leading to serious health issues.

The study, published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, is the first to show the pathogenic effects of some of the most widely used artificial sweeteners – saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame – on two types of gut bacteria, E. coli (Escherichia coli) and E. faecalis (Enterococcus faecalis).

Previous studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can change the number and type of bacteria in the gut, but this new molecular research, led by academics from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), has demonstrated that sweeteners can also make the bacteria pathogenic. It found that these pathogenic bacteria can attach themselves to, invade, and kill Caco-2 cells, which are epithelial cells that line the wall of the intestine.

It is known that bacteria such as E. faecalis which cross the intestinal wall can enter the blood stream and congregate in the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen, causing a number of infections including septicaemia.

This new study discovered that at a concentration equivalent to two cans of diet soft drink, all three artificial sweeteners significantly increased the adhesion of both E. coli and E. faecalis to intestinal Caco-2 cells, and differentially increased the formation of biofilms.

Bacteria growing in biofilms are less sensitive to antimicrobial resistance treatment and are more likely to secrete toxins and express virulence factors, which are molecules that can cause disease.

Additionally, all three sweeteners caused the pathogenic gut bacteria to invade Caco-2 cells found in the wall of the intestine, with the exception of saccharin which had no significant effect on E. coli invasion.

Senior author of the paper Dr Havovi Chichger, Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Science at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said: “There is a lot of concern about the consumption of artificial sweeteners, with some studies showing that sweeteners can affect the layer of bacteria which support the gut, known as the gut microbiota.

“Our study is the first to show that some of the sweeteners most commonly found in food and drink – saccharin, sucralose and aspartame – can make normal and ‘healthy’ gut bacteria become pathogenic. These pathogenic changes include greater formation of biofilms and increased adhesion and invasion of bacteria into human gut cells.

“These changes could lead to our own gut bacteria invading and causing damage to our intestine, which can be linked to infection, sepsis and multiple-organ failure.

“We know that overconsumption of sugar is a major factor in the development of conditions such as obesity and diabetes. Therefore, it is important that we increase our knowledge of sweeteners versus sugars in the diet to better understand the impact on our health.”

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7 Ways to snack smarter

The key is taking a smart approach to snacking and making small shifts toward healthier choices. Consider these simple strategies to help you get started.

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Eating a balanced breakfast, lunch and dinner each day is an important part of maintaining a healthy diet, but what you eat between mealtimes can have just as much of an impact.

Eating a snack or two between traditional meals helps curb hunger and prevents overeating at mealtimes, provides an energy boost and can also help bridge nutrient gaps in your diet when you choose the right foods. On the other hand, consuming foods of little nutritional value out of boredom or habit can lead to eating too much and adding extra pounds to your waistline.

The key is taking a smart approach to snacking and making small shifts toward healthier choices. Consider these simple strategies to help you get started from the snacking experts at Fresh Cravings.

1. Snack Mindfully

It’s easy to overeat and overlook fullness cues when snacking in front of the TV or at a desk. Instead, treat snack time like you would a small meal and take a few minutes to eat in a designated area with limited distractions. Avoid eating out of boredom or stress and choose whole foods like fruits and vegetables or air-popped popcorn over processed chips, baked goods or candy.

2. Plan Ahead

Snacks can be a significant portion of many people’s daily caloric intake, so it’s important to include snacks when planning out your meals for the day or week. Include fruits, vegetables and proteins in your snack schedule and avoid refined starches and sugar, which are typically found in prepackaged and processed snacks. Planning and preparing snacks ahead of time can help you bypass those quick, unhealthy options and save money in the process, as well.

3. Make Healthy Snacking Easy

Keeping fruit, vegetables and other accessible nutritious ingredients in the refrigerator or pantry increases the chances you’ll reach for a better-for-you option when a snack craving strikes. Having staple ingredients on hand that can be paired with vegetables or whole-grain crackers like Fresh Cravings Hummus makes it easy to create healthy snacks. Made with high-quality ingredients like smooth Chilean extra-virgin olive oil, savory tahini, which is known to be a source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and non-GMO chickpeas, the line is available in Classic Hummus, Roasted Red Pepper and Roasted Garlic varieties and can be found in 100% recyclable packaging in the produce aisle of your local grocery store.

“Look for options that are filling and nutrient-dense,” said Mia Syn, MS, RDN, a dietitian who has helped millions learn healthier, sustainable eating habits. “My preference is Fresh Cravings Hummus because it’s a great example with whole-food ingredients like tahini, Chilean extra-virgin olive oil and non-GMO chickpeas, offering a balanced mix of filling fiber, plant-based protein and good fats.”

4. Combine Nutrient Groups

Each time you reach for a snack, try to include two or more macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates). For example, choosing foods containing protein like low-fat cheese or nuts and pairing them with carbohydrates (whole-grain crackers, grapes) can create balanced, filling snacks. Carbohydrates help provide both your body and mind with energy while protein-rich foods break down more slowly, helping you feel full longer. Other ideas include celery and peanut butter or fruit and Greek yogurt, which are easy ways to get more low-calorie, high-fiber produce into your diet.

5. Pay Attention to Portion Sizes

Snacks are meant to help ward off hunger between meals, not be substitutes for meals entirely. While measuring out snacks isn’t usually necessary, having an awareness of appropriate portion sizes can be helpful. If buying or cooking in bulk, divide snacks into smaller containers when meal planning to make it convenient to simply grab an appropriate size snack and continue your day.

6. Pack Snacks to Go

Having grab-and-go snacks packed while out running errands, working or completing everyday tasks can help keep you on track when hunger strikes. Packing items that don’t require refrigeration like trail mix, whole-grain crackers or granola bars can keep you from stopping at a convenience store or picking an unhealthy option from a vending machine. Preparing snacks at home also gives you more control over the ingredients you’re eating to ensure you’re sticking to an eating plan that’s better for your overall health.

7. Set a Good Example

Parents can influence children’s snack habits by consuming healthy snacks themselves. An option like sliced veggies paired with the rich flavors of chickpeas and creaminess of tahini found in hummus can be a perfect match to both satisfy hunger in a delicious way and build better-for-you habits. Snack time is also an opportunity to let kids learn about healthy eating by participating in choosing and preparing snacks. Cutting fruits and vegetables or turning foods into crafts are easy ways to get little ones involved in the process.

“For families challenged with integrating more veggies into their diets, hummus is also a kid-friendly flavor enhancer that packs beneficial nutrition instead of the saturated fats and sugar often found in many traditional dressings and condiments,” Syn said.

Find more ideas to satisfy snack cravings at freshcravings.com.

Photo by Lloyd Dirks from Unsplash.com

Smart Snack Ideas

Between work, school, extracurricular activities and family functions, it may seem like there’s no time to eat healthy when your family is seemingly always on the go. However, finding the proper fuel is even more important when you’re trying to balance a hectic schedule, which is where snacks can play an important role between meals.

Consider these nutritious snack options that can help satisfy a variety of cravings without taking up too much of that valuable time.

Crunchy Munchies

  • Apples or pears
  • Carrot and celery sticks
  • Cucumber or bell pepper slices
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Brown rice cakes
  • Nuts and seeds

Low-Sugar Sips

  • Plain or sparkling water (add fruit or herbs for extra flavor)
  • Unsweetened tea or coffee
  • 100% vegetable or fruit juices with no added sugars

Satisfying Noshes

  • Sliced vegetables with Fresh Cravings Classic, Roasted Red Pepper or Roasted Garlic Hummus
  • Fruit and vegetable smoothies
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