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An Ultimate Ungulate Fact Sheet
Bubalus mindorensis
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Bubalus mindorensis [Heude, 1888].
Citation: Mem. Hist. Nat. Emp. Chin., 2:4.
Type locality: Philippines, Mindoro.

The taxonomic record (above) is taken from Wilson and Reeder (1993). Bubalus mindorensis is included in the subgenus Bubalus [Hamilton-Smith, 1827], being affiliated with the Asiatic water buffalo (B. arnee) primarily due to horn morphology (Nowak, 1991; Custodio et al., 1996). The tamaraw was once classified as a subspecies of the Asiatic water buffalo (Corbet and Hill, 1992), although some authors have allied this species with the anoas (B. depressicornis and B. quarlesi) in the subgenus (genus) Anoa (see Rabor, 1977; Nowak, 1991). B. mindorensis has no recognized subspecies and has no synonyms (Custodio et al., 1996).

Physical Characteristics

Bubalus mindorensis is smaller and stockier than the Asiatic water buffalo (Bubalus arnee), and should not be confused with the small carabao, a domestic form of water buffalo (B. bubalis) used in the Philippines (Nowak, 1991). Males have thicker necks than females, although there is little other sexual dimorphism (Steere, 1890 in Custodio et al., 1996). Reported measurements are scarce, but females have been estimated to weigh 200-odd kilograms.

Reported measurements for tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis)
Source Adult Weight Head & Body Length Shoulder Height Tail Length
Buchholtz, 1990 - - 100 cm -
Corbet and Hill, 1992 - - 100-105 cm -
Hooper, 1941
in Custodio et al., 1996
- 220 cm 94.5 cm 60 cm
Rabor, 1977 - - 120 cm -
Roth and Montemayor-Taca, 1971
in Custodio et al., 1996
~180-220 kg - - -
Talbot and Talbot, 1966 ~275 kg - - -

Adult tamaraw are dark brown to grayish black in color and have more hair than the closely related Asiatic water buffalo, Bubalus arnee (Rabor, 1977). The hair on the back (from the neck to the hindquarters) is directed forwards, rather than towards the tail, resulting in whorls along the hindquarters where the growth changes direction (Custodio et al., 1996). There may be a darker stripe along the dorsal ridge (Talbot and Talbot, 1966). The limbs are short and the body is stocky (Rabor, 1977). White markings are present above the hooves as well as on the inner lower forelegs, similar to the lowland anoa (B. depressicornis) of Sulawesi (Custodio et al., 1996).

The face is the same color as the body; the only facial markings seen in the majority of individuals are a pair of gray-white stripes running from the inner corner of the eye towards the horns, creating light "eyebrows" (Custodio et al., 1996). In some individuals, whitish markings are present on each side of the lower jaw; there may also be a white crescent on throat (Corbet and Hill, 1992; Custodio et al., 1996). The skin of the nose and lips is black (Custodio et al., 1996). The ears are moderate in size, with a length of approximately 13.5 cm from the notch to the tip, and have white markings on their inner surfaces (Rabor, 1977; Custodio et al., 1996).

Both sexes of tamaraw have unmistakably stout, wedge-shaped horns which are relatively short, straight, and black in color (Custodio et al., 1996). The horns are triangular at the base with flat surfaces along most of their length; they grow in a "V" rather than the arcing "C" of B. arnee (Rabor, 1977; Corbet and Hill, 1992). Towards the tips, the horns become more rounded in cross-section, and the sharp tips may come close together (Rabor, 1977). Like the anoas, the bases of horns are close together, and they are swept back at approximately the angle of the forehead. A pronounced series of irregular ridges and pits form rings around the horns; the outer surfaces are usually worn smooth (due to rubbing on objects) while the inner sides remain very rough (Rabor, 1977). Reported horn lengths range from 35.5-51.0 cm (Nowak, 1991); actual measurements summarized by Custodio et al. (1996) include 35.5 cm, 38 cm, 40 cm, 42 cm, and 43 cm. The basal circumference of one horn was 33.5 cm (Hooper, 1941 in Custodio et al., 1996). The horns of males are usually longer and thicker than those of females (Custodio et al., 1996).

Reproduction and Development

After a gestation of 276-315 days, a single young is born (Buchholtz, 1990). Young tamaraw may be born throughout Mindoro's rainy season (from June to November) when food is most plentiful. However, at Mount Iglit, reports of newborn or young animals garnered by Talbot and Talbot (1966) were restricted to December and January. Newborn tamaraws are reddish-brown in color with dark brown legs and a black mid-dorsal line (Kuehn, 1986). At a few months of age, the body color is light brown, and gradually darkens to reach adult coloration at 3-4 years of age (Kuehn, 1986).

Females do not associate as closely with their young as do the Asiatic water buffalo (B. arnee). One mother was observed by Kuehn (1986) grazing 50 meters away from a neonate, which lay on the ground with the neck stretched out along the ground. Although reminiscent of the "hider" behavior seen in some other ungulates, it is unknown to what degree tamaraw fit this pattern. Young animals may stay with their mothers for several years, dispersing when 2-4 years of age (Custodio et al., 1996). Although an interbirth interval of two years was reported by Custodio et al. (1996), one female observed by Kuehn (1986) was accompanied by three juveniles. The life span of B. mindorensis is about 20-25 years (Buchholtz, 1990).


Tamaraw inhabit forests, grasslands, and marshy areas; they were previously found across the island of Mindoro from sea level to elevations over 2,000 meters (Rabor, 1977). Currently, tamaraw are most frequently seen in secondary forests and forest/grassland mosaics (Hedges et al., 2008). At Mount Iglit, vegetation cover in tamaraw habitat is dominated by three grassland types - cogon (Imperata cylindrica) in drier regions, talahib (Saccharum spontaneum) in the wettest areas (both of these species may grow to over 2 meters in height), and shorter grasses which grow on exposed slopes (including Themeda sp., Cynodon arcuatus, Digitaria sanguinalis, Eleusine indica, Sorghum nitidum, Alloteropsis semialata, and Paspalum scrobiculatum) (Talbot and Talbot, 1966; Kuehn, 1986). The original dipterocarp forests of the region are found only as remnants along limestone ridges where there are protected from fire (Talbot and Talbot, 1966). Permanent and seasonal rivers are found throughout the region, and are often lined by reeds (Phragmites sp.), bamboo (Dinochloa sp. and Schizostachyum sp.), and dipterocarp forest fragments (Kuehn, 1986).

The tamaraw is primarily a grazer, feeding on grasses such as Cynodon arcuatus, Digitaria sanguinalis, Eleusine indica, Sorghum nitidum, Paspalum scrobiculatum, Alloteropsis semialata, and Vetiveria zizanoides (Talbot and Talbot, 1966). Young bamboo shoots (Schizostachyum sp.) may be eaten when grasses grow tall and coarse (Talbot and Talbot, 1966). Although plentiful, cogon (Imperata cylindrica) and talahib (Saccharum spontaneum) are only eaten when it is short and green (Talbot and Talbot, 1966).


Although formerly diurnal, tamaraw have become largely nocturnal due to encroachment and disturbance caused by humans (Talbot and Talbot, 1966). Tamaraw feed in open grasslands and rest among tall grasses or in dense forest (Talbot and Talbot, 1966). Captive individuals feed most frequently between 0600 and 1000 and 1800 to 2200 hours; foraging accounts for 24% of the tamaraws time budget, with rumination occupying an additional 26% of the day (Momongan and Walde, 1993 in Custodio et al., 1996).

Tamaraw are largely solitary, with the only lasting association being between a mother and her offspring (Talbot and Talbot, 1966). 82% of the 218 observations of adult males made by Kuehn (1986) were of lone individuals, while adult females were either solitary or accompanied by calves in 66% of 107 observations (Kuehn, 1986). The largest group observed by Kuehn (1986) was comprised of six individuals: an adult bull, a cow and calf, and three immature males less than 3.5 years old, while one group of eleven animals was reported to Talbot and Talbot (1966). Males and females may associate throughout the year, if only fleetingly for a few hours (Custodio et al., 1996). Wild tamaraw observed by Suchomel (2005) were fully solitary (except for a female with a grown calf) and kept several hundred meters between adjacent individuals in grassland habitat. The solitary nature of the tamaraw is suggested to be an adaptation to a forest environment, where large groups would prove to be a hindrance (Eisenberg, 1966 in Kuehn, 1986).

Tamaraw regularly use well-trodden paths through their habitat, including through steep terrain; based on hoofprints and scat, multiple animals use the same pathways although likely not at the same time (Suchomel, 2005). Mud wallowing in captive tamaraw is observed most frequently during the day, and this activity is likely important in wild animals as indicated by the presence of mud wallows throughout appropriate habitat (Talbot and Talbot, 1966; Momongan and Walde, 1993 in Custodio et al., 1996). Running and pawing dirt were observed most frequently at night in captive animals by Momongan and Walde (1993 in Custodio et al., 1996).

B. mindorensis has a well-known reputation for fierceness when cornered, although many reports are unsubstantiated (Rabor, 1977). Among four captive tamaraw, Suchomel (2005) noted that the female was significantly more aggressive (especially to strange humans) than the males. Few agonistic encounters between tamaraw have been witnessed - of the eight male-male conflicts observed by Kuehn (1986), all were pursuits. Half of these occurred when the animals were condensed into small fragments of habitat due to fires, while two others were of an adult male chasing dispersing juvenile males. The distances of the pursuits were quite lengthy - between 100 and 1,000 meters, with an average of 300 meters (Kuehn, 1986). The threat posture of cows involves lowering the head so that the horns are vertical, accompanied with lateral shaking; tamaraw have not been observed tossing earth or making vertical motions with the horns (Kuehn, 1986).


A female tamaraw examined by Fischer and Hohn (1976) had a karyotype of 2n = 46 (in Custodio et al., 1996).


The tamaraw is endemic to the Philippine island of Mindoro (9,735 km2 in area), with a total range estimated to be less than 300 km2 (Hedges et al., 2008). While formerly widespread across the island, this species is now believed to occupy only three areas: Mount Iglit-Baco National Park (within the Iglit range), Mount Aruyan/Sablayan, and Mount Calavite Tamaraw Preserve (Hedges et al., 2008). In the Pleistocene Epoch (at least 11,000 years ago), the tamaraw was also found on the island of Luzon (Beyer, 1957 in Kuehn, 1986).

Countries: Philippines (Hedges et al., 2008).

Range Map
(Redrawn from Custodio et al., 1996; Hedges et al., 2008)

Conservation Status

The tamaraw is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN (Hedges et al., 2008) and is listed on CITES Appendix I (CITES, 2012). In 1900, there were an estimated 10,000 tamaraw on Mindoro; the population estimate in 1987 was only 370 (Petocz, 1989 in Corbet and Hill, 1992). The current population is estimated at approximately 300 individuals, of which at least 90% belong to the Mount Iglit-Baco population (Hedges et al., 2008). The Mount Calavite and Mount Aruyan populations are each estimated to contain fewer than twenty animals (Hedges et al., 2008).

The principal threat to the continued survival of the tamaraw is habitat loss as a result of agriculture and the development of human infrastructure; the introduction of diseases and parasites from domestic species is also of concern (Hedges et al., 2008). The tamaraw was historically hunted heavily for meat and as a trophy animal (Rabor, 1977). Hunting was carefully regulated prior to the Second World War but, in the times since then, a growing human population, lumber operations, ranching, and widespread availability of firearms have caused the observed dramatic decline in numbers (Talbot and Talbot, 1966). Although protected by law, tamaraw are still illegally captured and killed (Rabor, 1977; Hedges et al., 2008).

A captive breeding program was initiated in 1982 in Mount Iglit-Baco National Park with 21 individuals. Unfortunately, the program was not successful with very few animals being born; as of 2006 only two tamaraw remained at the breeding centre.


B. mindorensis is the only bovid native to the Philippines and is the country's largest native land animal (Rabor, 1977). The name Tamaraw is from the language of the people of the Philippine island of Luzon and is spelled with considerable variation: tamarau, tamarou, and tamarao are common variants (Rabor, 1977). It is also known as the Mindoro dwarf buffalo (Hedges et al., 2008).

Boubalos (Greek) a buffalo. Mindoro is an island in the Philippines; -ensis (Latin) suffix meaning belonging to, the tamaraw is restricted to to this island (see distribution for more information).

Local names
Tamaraw, Timaraw [Mindoro] (Rabor, 1977)
Tamarao, Tamarau (Buchholtz, 1990; Hedges et al., 2008)
Tamarau, Tamarao, Mindorobüffel (Buchholtz, 1990)
Búfalo de Mindoro (Hedges et al., 2008)
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