Environment authorities in Palawan rescued over the weekend a large number of rare and critically endangered freshwater turtles that were supposed to be shipped out of the province and sold in the Chinese black market.
The turtles, numbering 979, were confiscated from the possession of suspected wildlife traffickers Joel Sulayaw, Gerald Favila and Benjie Dimasupil at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, October 18, in Barangay Old Guinlo, northern Palawan town of Taytay.
The large spate were comprised of Southeast Asian box turtles, Asian leaf turtles, and Philippine pond turtles, which are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as “vulnerable, lower risk or near threatened, and critically endangered.”
The Philippine pond turtle, also known as Siebenrockiella leytensis, is only endemic to the Philippines and is native to the northern part of Palawan. It faces very high risk of extinction. Locally folks call it “bakoko.”
The raiding team, composed of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) enforcers and members of the Provincial Law Enforcement Task Force (PLETF), brought the turtles to Puerto Princesa early Monday morning for inventory and proper disposition.
As of press time, inquest proceedings are being prepared against the suspects for illegally possessing the threatened wildlife species in violation of the Philippine Wildlife Act, or Republic Act No. 9147.
Wildlife trafficking is not new in Palawan. In June this year, about 4,000 Philippine pond turtles were rescued inside the warehouse of a Chinese trader in the southern town of Bataraza in what is considered to be 2015’s largest poaching case in the country.
Wildlife trade in China’s black market is a lucrative criminal activity. The rate per head ranges between P8,000 to P12,000, environmental authorities estimate.
In the province, illegal wildlife traders are said to be buying them from the locals for P60 to P70 per kilo. However, due to the freshwater turtles’ sinking population” due to poaching, the price per kilo has gone up from P250 to P300.(with reports from Jumong Ustares)