Photo from PCSD Facebook Page

Approximately 40 law enforcement officers participated in a five-day training program to identify and combat transnational organized crime networks engaged in wildlife trade.

The Countering Transnational and Organized Crime (CTOC) training, held between January 16 and 20, was a US government-funded initiative of the international NGOs Freeland, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and WWF under the Targeting Regional Investigations for Policing Opportunities and Development (TRIPOD) program.

Law enforcement agencies, including Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Philippine National Police (PNP), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), Anti-Money Laundering Council, Philippine Ports Authority, and Philippine Center on Transnational Crime, attended the training.

“Because criminals are working together across borders to make money from trafficking wildlife species, so too must law enforcement agencies band together and intensify their cooperation and collaboration to stop the looting and exploitation of endangered plants and animals,” said WWF-Philippines Executive Director Katherine Custodio.

The law enforcement officers including wildlife rescue agencies, veterinarians, and animal experts were also trained by Tanggol Kalikasan on how to handle rescued wild animals from traffickers.

“Seizures of live animals are particularly challenging for enforcement agencies combating wildlife crime. Trafficked animals are discovered in poor condition and require urgent attention. Animal handling techniques are essential to ensure the safety of personnel and to safeguard animal welfare” said IFAW Wildlife Rescue program manager Lois Lelanchon.

Millions lost to illegal wildlife trade
DENR has estimated around P50 billion total cost of the illegal trade in the Philippines per year. This amount already includes the market value of wildlife, resources, ecological role and value losses to damaged habitats from poaching and loss in potential ecotourism revenues.

Among the most traded wildlife species are the Philippine forest turtle, hawksbill turtle, Southeast Asian box turtle, Asian leaf turtle, Palawan pangolin, blue-naped parrot, Palawan hill mynah, and tokay gecko that are mostly found in Palawan.

During the pandemic, PCSDS has recorded a surge of apprehended wildlife species from illegal traders that have shifted to different modus such as online.

A transnational problem with transnational solution
Aside from the Philippines, southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and Malaysia are also facing similar challenges related to illegal wildlife trade.

According to WWF, enforcement of laws on wildlife trafficking has been difficult given the wide marine borders in the Sulu and Celebes Seas and the lack of strong cooperation between the countries’ security and intelligence agencies.

Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, in the Southeast Asian archipelago, have been facing challenges related to the illegal wildlife trade of threatened species such as pangolins, marine turtles, and sharks, among others.

Under TRIPOD, Philippine agencies and its counterparts in Indonesia and Malaysia will convene in an exchange of information and build a consensus on how to target cross-border illicit supply chains that are behind the illegal wildlife trade.

“With the improved capacity and collaboration of our partner law enforcement agencies, criminal syndicates looking to profit from endangered wildlife species will think twice before they target the rich flora and fauna in the Philippines and neighboring countries,” said Custodio.

“Law enforcement networking and training is a low cost-high impact approach to deterring and dismantling organized wildlife crime,” Freeland’s Founder Steven Galster added.