Personnel of the PCSD during the initial inventory of the seized sacks and boxes of hawksbill turtle scutes, pipefishes, seahorses, and pangolin scales on the night of September 27, 2019.

Environment and military authorities in Palawan intercepted Friday night what was supposed to be a large shipment to the black market of the biggest haul to date of dried hawksbill turtle scutes, pipefishes, seahorses, and pangolin scales.

Around 65 sacks and boxes of these poached wildlife species were seized from a two-storey house at Wescom Road, Purok Pagkakaisa, Barangay San Pedro.

The operation was carried out by joint personnel of the local office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Western Command (WESCOM) through the Naval Forces West (NFW), and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD).

PCSD declined to identify the owner of the house for the time being because of a follow-up operation still being conducted.

Pangolin scales discovered inside one of the boxes seized by local environment authorities and navy personnel in Barangay San Pedro.

San Pedro barangay councilor Rey Tabang told Palawan News in an interview that they were surprised to find out a house in their jurisdiction is being used as a storeroom for illegal wildlife trading.

“Nagulat kami, I was just roving around noong tumawag ang aming secretary at need daw ng assistance kasi meron daw mga wildlife species na nakita. Pagdating ko andito na ‘yong mga apprehending officers,” Tabang said.

“Nakita natin sa taas punong-puno ng boxes at saka sako na noong binaba na natin dito for initial inventory, nakita natin ‘yong laman, ‘yon nga ‘yong kaliskis ng balintong na ang sabi ay napakamahal ng halaga per kilo,” he added.

Seahorses and pipefishes stored inside large styrofoam boxes.

Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in the Philippines and in the world for its meat and derived products.

Its black market is said to be persistent in Asia where demand for scales is high because of their perceived medicinal value. Accordingly, pangolin scales can drive lactation and cure skin diseases.

Dr. Sabine Schoppe, director of the Palawan Freshwater Turtle Conservation Program (PFTCP) of the Katala Foundation, Inc. (KFI) and whose expertise is in the fields of ecology, zoology, and marine biology, said that a kilo of pangolin scales in the black market in the Philippines now costs between P15,000 to P20,000.

However, she said there is a need to verify the pangolin scales that were seized since identification is “difficult to impossible” just on the basis of its morphology.

Hawksbill turtle scutes.

She said Asian species can be distinguished from African species by the presence of bristles/hairs at the base of the scales. The hairs, however, get detached from the scales when dried.

Schoppe said hairs might, however, still be present in the sacks where the scales are contained.

“I think the chance that they are from Palawan endemic species is very high based on the location of seizure — I would say 99 percent,” she said.

She said pipefishes and seahorses under the genus Hippocampus are classified as “endangered” under the Wildlife Resources and Conservation Act of 2001 and PCSD Resolution 15-521, which approves the updated list of terrestrial and marine wildlife in Palawan.

“The trade of species under genus Hippocampus is also internationally regulated by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) as they are listed under Appendix II,” she said.

This is a developing story. (With a report from Jayra Joyce Taboada)

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has been with Palawan News since January 2019. She is its managing editor, overseeing and coordinating day-to-day editorial activities. Her writing interests are politics and governance, health, defense, investigative journalism, civic journalism, and the environment.