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Why ‘biosecurity’ is important for wildlife conservation

When imagining threats to biodiversity, wildfires, logging, poaching and other visual activities are top-of-mind. But sometimes, the smallest beings do the most damage.

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By Gregg Yan

Fausto Novelozo, chief of the Taw’buid tribe, exhales from his worn clay pipe. The sweet scent of wild tobacco envelopes the hut. “It was sickness that drove us down from the mountains. Measles we got from Tagalog visitors. Half our village of 200 died. The survivors moved here to be closer to civilization. Now we constantly need medicine.”

We’re in Tamisan Dos, one of two newly-established villages flanking a road which leads to the Iglit-Baco Natural Park in Occidental Mindoro. In their tongue, Taw’buid means ‘people from above’ because they historically inhabited the island’s mountainous interior. Fausto’s people are highlanders no more.

Before we push deeper into the park, we leave the old chief some provisions – coffee, sugar, salt and a small bag of medicine.

The Danger of Disease

When imagining threats to biodiversity, wildfires, logging, poaching and other visual activities are top-of-mind. But sometimes, the smallest beings do the most damage.

Disease is a major killer of isolated tribes. In July of 1837, an American steamboat called the Saint Peter infected the Mandan, a North American tribe of about 2000, with smallpox. Three months later, only 23 were left alive.

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

The Taw’buid are just one of many groups that the Tamaraw Conservation Programme (TCP) works with in their 40-year old bid to save the tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis), a well-known but critically-endangered buffalo found only in the Philippines. Like native tribes, the tamaraw is highly-vulnerable to disease.

Decimated by Rinderpest

Once, tamaraw grazed by the thousands. An estimated 10,000 inhabited Mindoro at the turn of the century.

As now, Mindoro then had prime-pastureland – so good that ranchers imported thousands of cattle to the island. As grazing competition for the lowlands increased, ranchers started herding their cattle up mountains – the same ones occupied by tamaraw. 

In the 1930s, an outbreak of rinderpest took place. A deadly virus which kills 90% of what it infects, rinderpest laid waste not just to the population of farmed cattle, but wild tamaraw as well.

By 1969, numbers were estimated to have dropped under 100, prompting the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to declare the species as critically endangered – just one step above extinction.

Decades of conservation led by the 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 and Eco Explorations, have helped tamaraw numbers recover to around 600, confined to four isolated areas in Mindoro. All are 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.”

The Mounts Iglit-Baco Natural Park (MIBNP), a former game refuge turned into a protected area, spans 106,655 hectares. It is home to the Philippine brown deer (Rusa marianna), Oliver’s warty pig (Sus oliveri) plus many other rare and endangered species. It also hosts 480 of the world’s 600 remaining tamaraw.

It is also currently surrounded by 3000 cattle belonging to 30 ranchers.

Rangers Need Help

Together, TCP and MIBNP rangers work to ward off invading cattle or heavily-armed poachers. They constantly dismantle spring-loaded balatik and deadly silo snare traps while discouraging the park’s indigenous Taw’buid and Buhid tribesfolk from engaging in slash-and-burn farming.

“It’s no easy task since the tribes must feed their growing families,” says TCP head Neil Anthony Del Mundo. “As their numbers swell, so do their requirements for space and food, which is why they’re setting-up more traps, even inside core zones. This is a challenge faced by all protected areas inhabited by people.”

The life of a tamaraw ranger is fraught with difficulty – the risk is high, the pay low. 

TCP was created to bolster tamaraw conservation efforts in 1979 through Executive Order 544. However, it was set-up as a special project instead of an office, so only its head is a regular employee with benefits.

In 2018, TCP was allotted PHP4.2M for operations. This 2019, the budget was slashed to PHP3.3M, 75% of which goes to personnel salaries, leaving little for operational and field expenses.

Despite the fact that most rangers have put in an average of 10 years’ service and stay in the field a month at a time, none of them get benefits despite years of dangerous fieldwork.

“TCP must be institutionalized as an office to secure better pay, permanent tenure and government benefits for its hardworking rangers. Our tamaraw rangers go out against hunters armed with military-grade rifles. Communist rebels pass through the same places they patrol. Poisonous snakes, charging tamaraw, animal traps, dangerously-swollen rivers … every time our boys go out on patrol, one foot’s already in the grave,” adds June Pineda, former TCP head and now a Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer (CENRO) based in Mindoro.

To gather much-needed resources for TCP and various protected areas nationwide, BIOFIN is helping raise funds via bank account donations to Metrobank account number 750-001-5620.

“A little help goes a long way. We ask fellow Pinoys to donate just a bit to save the tamaraw and the rangers keeping them alive and kicking,” says BIOFIN Philippines project manager Anabelle Plantilla. “Through their efforts and sacrifice, they have managed to grow tamaraw numbers from 100 to about 600.”

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. 

The Iglit-Baco Natural Park exists in a fragile balance. To keep its people, animals and ecosystems healthy, we all need to pitch in. 

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.

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Pru Life UK agents, customers, executives celebrate Year of the Wood Dragon

The insurer maintains its top position in New Business Annual Premium Equivalent & total Premium Income from Variable Life Insurance products according to the Insurance Commission’s Life Insurance Sector Quarterly Statistics for Q3 2023.

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With a strengthened commitment to providing better financial protection for every Filipino, Pru Life UK celebrates the start of the Year of the Wood Dragon. Over 200 Pru Life UK leaders, agents, clients, and employees joined and wished everyone PRU Love during the festivities held at the heart of its Escolta branch in Binondo Manila.

The insurer maintains its top position in New Business Annual Premium Equivalent & total Premium Income from Variable Life Insurance products according to the Insurance Commission’s Life Insurance Sector Quarterly Statistics for Q3 2023.

Pru Life UK’s products are made accessible through its over 42,000 digitally-empowered agency workforce and like-minded partners.

The Company recently launched PRULove for Life – an affordable, limited-pay, whole-life participating plan for as low as Php 87 per day* with lifetime coverage up to age 100 and flexible payment terms of 5, 10, 15, or 20 years to pay. To know more about PRULove for Life, talk to your Pru Life UK agent today or visit Pru Life UK’s website.

Pru Life UK is also committed to driving up financial awareness, literacy, and inclusion in the country by leading industry discussions and programs for the community. Its PRUBabies campaign seeks to protect 175,000 newborns with free insurance coverage against select infectious diseases such as Dengue, Typhoid, Measles, and Malaria.

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Eating too much protein is bad for your arteries, and this amino acid is to blame

Consuming over 22% of dietary calories from protein can lead to increased activation of immune cells that play a role in atherosclerotic plaque formation, driving the disease risk.

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University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers discovered a molecular mechanism by which excessive dietary protein could increase atherosclerosis risk. The findings were published in Nature Metabolism.

The study, which combined small human trials with experiments in mice and cells in a Petri dish, showed that consuming over 22% of dietary calories from protein can lead to increased activation of immune cells that play a role in atherosclerotic plaque formation, driving the disease risk. Furthermore, the scientists showed that one amino acid – leucine – seems to have a disproportionate role in driving the pathological pathways linked to atherosclerosis, or stiff, hardened arteries.

“Our study shows that dialing up your protein intake in pursuit of better metabolic health is not a panacea. You could be doing real damage to your arteries,” said senior and co-corresponding author Babak Razani, M.D., Ph.D., professor of cardiology at Pitt. “Our hope is that this research starts a conversation about ways of modifying diets in a precise manner that can influence body function at a molecular level and dampen disease risks.”

According to a survey of an average American diet over the last decade, Americans generally consume a lot of protein, mostly from animal sources. Further, nearly a quarter of the population receives over 22% of all daily calories from protein alone.

That trend is likely driven by the popular idea that dietary protein is essential to healthy living, says Razani. But his and other groups have shown that overreliance on protein may not be such a good thing for long-term health.

Following their 2020 research, in which Razani’s laboratory first showed that excess dietary protein increases atherosclerosis risk in mice, his next study in collaboration with Bettina Mittendorfer, Ph.D., a metabolism expert at the University of Missouri, Columbia, delved deeper into the potential mechanism and its relevance to the human body.

To arrive at the answer, Razani’s laboratory, led by first-authors Xiangyu Zhang, Ph.D., and Divya Kapoor, M.D., teamed up with Mittendorfer’s group to combine their expertise in cellular biology and metabolism and perform a series of experiments across various models – from cells to mice to humans.

“We have shown in our mechanistic studies that amino acids, which are really the building blocks of the protein, can trigger disease through specific signaling mechanisms and then also alter the metabolism of these cells,” Mittendorfer said. “For instance, small immune cells in the vasculature called macrophages can trigger the development of atherosclerosis.”

Based on initial experiments in healthy human subjects to determine the timeline of immune cell activation following ingestion of protein-enriched meals, the researchers simulated similar conditions in mice and in human macrophages, immune cells that are shown to be particularly sensitive to amino acids derived from protein.

Their work showed that consuming more than 22% of daily dietary calories through protein can negatively affect macrophages that are responsible for clearing out cellular debris, leading to the accumulation of a “graveyard” of those cells inside the vessel walls and worsening of atherosclerotic plaques overtime. Interestingly, the analysis of circulating amino acids showed that leucine – an amino acid enriched in animal-derived foods like beef, eggs and milk – is primarily responsible for abnormal macrophage activation and atherosclerosis risk, suggesting a potential avenue for further research on personalized diet modification, or “precision nutrition.”

Razani is careful to note that many questions remain to be answered, mainly: What happens when a person consumes between 15% of daily calories from protein as recommended by the USDA and 22% of daily calories from protein, and if there is a ‘sweet spot’ for maximizing the benefits of protein – such as muscle gain – while avoiding kick-starting a molecular cascade of damaging events leading to cardiovascular disease.

The findings are particularly relevant in hospital settings, where nutritionists often recommend protein-rich foods for the sickest patients to preserve muscle mass and strength.

“Perhaps blindly increasing protein load is wrong,” Razani said. “Instead, it’s important to look at the diet as a whole and suggest balanced meals that won’t inadvertently exacerbate cardiovascular conditions, especially in people at risk of heart disease and vessel disorders.”

Razani also notes that these findings suggest differences in leucine levels between diets enriched in plant and animal protein might explain the differences in their effect on cardiovascular and metabolic health. “The potential for this type of mechanistic research to inform future dietary guidelines is quite exciting,” he said.

Additional authors of the study are Yu-Sheng Yeh, Ph.D., also from Pitt; Alan Fappi, Ph.D. and Vasavi Shabrish, Ph.D., both of the University of Missouri, Columbia; Se-Jin Jeong, Ph.D., Jeremiah Stitham, M.D., Ph.D., Ismail Sergin, Ph.D., Eman Yousif, M.D., Astrid Rodriguez-Velez, Ph.D., Arick Park, M.D., Ph.D., Joel Schilling, M.D., Ph.D., Marco Sardiello, Ph.D., Abhinav Diwan, M.D., Nathan Stitziel, M.D., Ph.D., Ali Javaheri, M.D., Ph.D., Irfan Lodhi, Ph.D., and Jaehyung Cho, Ph.D., all of Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis; Arif Yurdagul Jr, Ph.D., and Oren Rom, Ph.D., both of the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center; and Slava Epelman, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Toronto.

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IRONKIDS Cebu in Lapu-Lapu partners with RLC Residences

This April will be the first event of the partnership as the brand extends their support for the budding young athletes. The aquathlon will see participants from ages 6 to 15 years old complete the race happening at The Reef Island Resort in Mactan.

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The IRONMAN Group Philippines and RLC Residences have announced in 2023 a new partnership—as the residential brand of Robinsons Land Corporation, RLC Residences becomes the title sponsor for IRONKIDS Lapu-Lapu and IRONKIDS Davao for 2024.

This April will be the first event of the partnership as the brand extends their support for the budding young athletes.  The aquathlon will see participants from ages 6 to 15 years old complete the race happening at The Reef Island Resort in Mactan.

RLC Residences Head of Brand Management Mr. Dan Carlo Torres shares his enthusiasm towards the event. “We are very excited to see this partnership unfold. We’ve been very supportive of IRONMAN, especially IRONKIDS because we also believe in the importance of promoting an active and purposeful lifestyle at such a young age and we hope to continuously be part of IRONMAN as we create more vibrant opportunities for our future triathletes,” he added.

“As we aspire to live our best lives, we work to inspire the wider community,” said Ms Princess Galura, Regional Director of the IRONMAN Group Philippines.  “For 10 years, the IRONKIDS has been a part of the Cebuano youth’s stepping stone to either a future in sports, representing the Philippines in international events, as well as planting the seeds of a healthy, sporty lifestyle.  Our partnership with RLC Residences allows us to do so and we are excited to hold the festivities for our youth once again in Lapu-Lapu this April,” she added.

The IRONKIDS event in Lapu-Lapu will feature age group categories for the 6 to 8 years old, 9 to 10 years old, 11 to 12 years old and 13 to 15 years old.  Relay categories are also available for mixed team relay for 6-10 year-olds and 11-15 year-olds. 

Swim and run courses, the transition area and finish line will be at The Reef Island Resort, which is conveniently located in a gated community.  Families who are checked in during race weekend can enjoy amenities of the resort –  including the beach, lap pool and game room.  The resort’s restaurant is operated by Cebu-based top tier chain, Abaca.

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