Protecting forest turtle species from poaching has progressed in Palawan thanks to the upskilling of forest frontline workers and caretakers, including government and nongovernmental organization stakeholders, through the use of wildlife trafficking detection microchips.
KM Reyes, co-founder of the Centre for Sustainability (CS) and National Geographic Explorer, told Palawan News on Monday that they recently trained indigenous rangers, government agency officials, and nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers on the use of microchips to help in the prevention of illegal trade of threatened forest turtle species.
“Putting simple technologies like these directly into the hands of frontline indigenous and local rangers, best positioned to protect our last wild places, is critical for ensuring effective and equitable protection of Palawan island, a UNESCO Man & Biosphere Reserve,” Reyes said.
“Easily-transferable skills like these enhance and assist the work of rangers, government, and NGOs to deter poaching of endemic and globally threatened species,” she added.
The National Geographic Society funded the full-day workshop demonstration, which was organized by the CS, at the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center (PWRCC) in Puerto Princesa City.
Workshop attendees learned how microchipping can help them prevent the poaching of turtles and other wildlife in Palawan, a territory recognized as a global biodiversity hotspot.
The turtle microchipping activity is an extension of CS’s ongoing work to train native and local rangers to conduct biodiversity surveys of the island’s diverse range of rare and endangered biota while on patrol.
It included presentations on live turtles and talks by scientists from around the world, as well as the distribution of a guidebook and equipment for turtle microchipping that was written in two languages.
CS said the Palawan Forest Turtle (Siebenrockiella leytensis) is endemic to the island and is critically endangered. The Southeast Asian Box Turtle (Cuoro amboinensis) and the Asian Leaf Turtle (Cyclemis dentata) are also forest dwellers of the province and are threatened by the global exotic pet trade.
In 2015, over 4,400 poached forest turtles, mostly Palawan forest turtles, headed for the international exotic pet trade were seized by environment authorities.
Katala Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to protect them, said the year saw the greatest number of Palawan forest turtles escape the threat of being trafficked. If the unregulated trade had been successful, it would have been roughly equivalent to taking all of the forest turtles out of their natural habitat.
Customs agents can determine whether or not turtles were illegally traded by scanning them with devices that read information from embedded microchips.
“If trafficked turtles are seized by customs, the officers can scan the turtles–and if there’s a microchip, they can cross-reference a database to prove definitively that this turtle was poached from the wild, exactly where it came from, and where they should return it,” said Dr. Astrid Andersson from Hong Kong, Conservation Biologist and National Geographic Explorer, who conducted the demonstration.
“It helps provide evidence for the prosecution of turtle traffickers, informs the rehabilitation and release of these turtles, and works as a deterrent to further poaching,” she added.
PWRCC officer-in-charge project manager Gina Varilla also said the workshop is a “most welcome avenue” for participants, especially their staff as it enhanced their knowledge on the importance of the microchipping technology in wildlife protection.
“They were oriented on the way of providing secure, reliable, and permanent identification of wildlife animals,” she said.
The workshop was attended by representatives from the Puerto Princesa City Environment and Natural Resources Office, Katala Foundation Inc., Large Marine Vertebrates Institute Philippines, Provincial Veterinary Office of Palawan, Palawan Council for Sustainable Development and PWRCC.