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Cebu Tamaraw : Extinct Species Once Lived in the Island of Cebu | Bubalus Cebuensis

Cebu Tamaraw : Extinct Species Once Lived in the Island of Cebu | Bubalus Cebuensis

The tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis) is a critically endangered species of dwarf water buffalo found only on the island of Mindoro, with an estimated population of just 480. But do you know that an even smaller water buffalo once lived in the island of Cebu? We introduce to you the extinct species Bubalus cebuensis, more commonly known as the Cebu tamaraw.

A partial skeleton of the Cebu tamaraw was discovered by accident by mining engineer Michael Armas more than 60 years ago while exploring for phosphate in a tunnel near the municipality of Balamban in island of Cebu. 

The fossil includes right and left humeri (arm bone, featured here), left metatarsal, 2 vertebrae, 2 unguals, and 2 molars. It was only in 2006, however, that these were found to be from a new species of extinct dwarf buffalo. Bubalus cebuensis was 25% smaller than the Mindoro dwarf buffalo (Bubalus mindorensis), standing only 75 centimeters at the shoulder and weighing about 150 to 160 kilograms. Although its exact age is not yet known, the fossil is believed to be of Pleistocene in age, between 10,000 and 100,000 years ago, but it is possible that it is younger.

The Cebu Tamaraw is an excellent example of island dwarfism in the family of Bovidae (buffalos, sheeps, goats, cows). Living in an island with limited resources and lack of the usual competitors and predators have produced this dramatic body size changes.

Aside from Bubalus cebuensis, fossil teeth and bone fragments of unidentified Bubalus species (feature here) were also unearthed in the provinces of Cagayan and Pangasinan since 1957. They were identified to be from small buffalos related to Bubalus mindorensis, and may suggests that the animal were more widespread prehistorically in the island of Luzon.

As we also celebrate the #WorldWildlifeConservationDay, let us all step up the fight against wildlife crime and protect the tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis), the last living dwarf buffalo in the Philippines, from extinction.


Text was written by Jiles Arvin Vergara and poster by Jaan Nogot / NMP Geology and Paleontology Division.

© National Museum of the Philippines (2020)


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