Researchers from the Katala Foundation captured an image of a mother and baby pangolin during a field expedition conducted for the USAID-funded study on Philippine pangolins. (Photo from USAID Protect Wildlife and Katala Foundation)

The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development is concerned about the apparent resurgence of pangolin hunting and trafficking after its wildlife enforcement team recently arrested five individuals in possession of a large quantity of pangolin scales.

The five suspects—Loloy Castillo, Alexander Labrador, Arnel dela Rosa, Bilson Olido, and Maricel Apolinario—were caught carrying 27 kilos of pangolin scales on July 27 in the town of Taytay.

According to PCSD Staff spokesperson Jovic Fabello on Monday, this is alarming as it seems like the illegal trade is coming back.

Earlier this year, in February, two individuals were apprehended in Sitio Bokbok, Brgy. Bebeladan, El Nido town, while selling pangolin scales in a buy-bust operation.

Fabello stated that the second incident, which occurred recently in Taytay, is a matter of concern due to the significant amount of kilos involved. There is a suspicion that the pangolin scales were gathered from hotspot areas in Taytay and El Nido.

“Noong nakaraan may nahuli tayo sa El Nido, pero so far ito ang pinaka marami—27 kilos, so imagine, ang isang kilo niyan mga kailangan humuli ka ng 10 na malalaking pangolin, di ang dami noon. Uubusin talaga nila ang pangolin sa norte,” he said.

Fabello said that according to the information they have obtained, the supply of pangolin scales and meat directly goes to China Town in Manila, and from there, some are exported while others are used for traditional medicine and for food as bush meat.

One reason why suspected wildlife traffickers were caught in Taytay is that it may be a hotspot or source of pangolins. On the other hand, trafficking in Roxas might be less frequent as the population of pangolins there could have already been depleted.

They have not yet estimated the current pangolin population in the northern part of Palawan, but he noted that they have an agreement with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to study the area.

Meanwhile, in the southern part, the Katala Foundation, Inc. is involved in the conservation efforts.

“Akala nga namin humina na yong illegal trade sa pangolins dahil sa restrictions. Akala namin magtutuloy-tuloy na, bihira na ang nagbibiyahe palabas ng Palawan, but ito since nag-open up na naman ang economy tuloy-tuloy na naman sila. Kasi sumigla na naman ngayong 2023, wala ng restrictions,” he said.

Fabello stated that in response to the recent arrest of the five individuals, they are intensifying their efforts to combat illegal pangolin trafficking. This includes increasing patrols and enhancing monitoring activities to better protect the pangolin population in the region.

Pangolins are mammals known for their unique appearance, distinguished by tough, overlapping scales covering their bodies. With eight species, four each found in Asia and Africa, they are often referred to as “scaly anteaters” due to their diet mainly consisting of ants and termites.

Experts emphasize the pangolin’s significance in the ecosystem as a natural pest controller. Being insectivores, they play an important role in regulating insect populations, particularly ants and termites, which are considered agricultural pests.

Regrettably, pangolins have become the most trafficked animal globally, largely driven by the high demand for their scales in traditional medicine in some Asian countries. Despite the lack of proven medical benefits, their scales are mistakenly believed to possess healing properties and are used in various remedies.

Furthermore, pangolins are considered culinary delicacies, leading to their illegal hunting for their meat, which is valued as an extravagant food choice.