Enforcement authorities recently recovered some 20 live pangolins from a suspected illegal wildlife trafficker in northern Palawan. The incident underscores the persistent challenge to law authorities and policymakers to decisively address this concern.
Palawan’s wildlife trafficking problem is a complex challenge, as it is driven mainly by the high consumer demand from the exotic pet and food markets of Hongkong and China. Palawan is a key component of the supply and demand equation because of its immense biodiversity, which ironically also serves as a major source of wildlife for the illegal trade. The supply items in popular demand include species such as the Palawan talking mynas and cockatoos as pets, the pangolins for their supposed medicinal scales and priced meat, and the sharks and marine turtles.
The latest apprehension only shows that Palawan’s illegal wildlife trade remains to be a serious threat, as this specific case is evidently far from being considered an isolated incident. Through the years, successful interdiction of wildlife trafficking in the province had been recorded. Unfortunately, information is scarce to be able to measure the exact extent of this illegal trade.
Enforcement and interdiction is certainly one of the areas that Palawan needs to concentrate on. Last week’s apprehension in El Nido was an accomplishment for all the agencies involved including the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) which is specifically tasked by law to implement the Philippine Wildlife Act.
Overall, however, the government’s current response to the challenge is still descriptively reactive in nature. There are other areas of response that can still be explored and strengthened such as bilateral and multilateral cooperation, public awareness targeting, in particular, the poor indigenous communities tapped as gatherers for the illegal trade.
Even the law and policy environment needs to be tweaked and strengthened. Disincentives and penalties for crimes such as trafficking for wildlife species are particularly weak. This is true in the case of the Palawan talking mynah, a species that is not classified by the IUCN as endangered or critically endangered. In Palawan, a majority of the wildlife apprehensions shows that the illegal trade of this particular species is probably the highest.
Recent theories propounded by experts suggest that the deadly COVID-19 virus may have originated from exotic animals consumed by humans. Even disregarding such a definitive conclusion, there are enough compelling reasons for Palawan and the rest of the world to clamp down against the global wildlife trade.