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Wildlife Trade in the Philippines
The ongoing utilization of online platforms to trade wildlife in the Philippines appears to be increasing in the last two decades. An online survey on 20 Facebook groups specializing in the trade of live reptiles was conducted from July 2016 to December 2018 to elucidate the dynamics of live crocodilian trade in the Philippines. A total of 71 unique posts representing three crocodilian species and a minimum of 164 individuals were posted by 50 traders in Facebook groups during the study period. The Spectacled Caiman Caiman crocodilus was the most traded species with 126 individuals or 77% of the total quantity. The Saltwater Crocodile Crocodylus porosus and the critically endangered Philippine Crocodile Crocodylus mindorensis were also documented. While all C. crocodilus individuals offered for sale were most likely imported legally or captive-bred in the Philippines, some C. porosus and C. mindorensis offered for sale may be sourced illegally from the wild.
In recent years, several studies have raised alarm at the illicit trade pressure on the Philippines’ endemic pangolin species – the Palawan pangolin. Between 2018 and 2019, seizures of Palawan pangolins increased more than ninefold compared with the previous 18 years.1 Around 20 live pangolins have been ‘retrieved’ in and around Metro Manila, a several hundred kilometres boat ride away from their natural habitat, the province of Palawan – also known as the Philippines’ ‘last ecological frontier’. Recent studies have estimated that as many as 26 784 pangolins may be illegally hunted on the islands of Palawan per year, with much of the meat and most of the scales making their way to buyers based either in Manila or abroad, making this a national problem driven by international demand. The report sets out how trafficking of the Palawan pangolin has grown over the last two decades, with what appears to be a sharp acceleration from around 2016. This rise has been linked both to shifts in the broader illicit economy in the Philippines, burgeoning links between pangolin consumer populations and the country, and global shifts in the patterns of illicit trade. We also describe the challenges facing the Filipino government agencies charged with responding to wildlife trafficking, which have created gaps in the state response that trafficking networks have profited from.
The Black Crested Macaque Macaca nigra (Desmarest) is a Critically Endangered species endemic to Indonesia. Populations are in decline due to habitat loss and hunting for the wild meat and exotic pet trade. International trade data involving this species is lacking, though anecdotal information suggests it is being smuggled to the Philippines. To verify this, we conducted online and physical market surveys of publicly accessible wildlife facilities in the Philippines and analysed seizure data for M. nigra in Indonesia and the Philippines from 2010 to 2019. This study reveals insights into illegal trade in M. nigra, which is enabled by laundering illegally sourced animals through zoos and wildlife breeding facilities. Surveys of publicly accessible wildlife facilities in the Philippines confirmed the presence of at least 36 individuals in the country, and an additional 12 were exported from the Philippines to China in 2014-2015. The acquisition of this species by wildlife facilities such as zoos in the Philippines is a concern, as there are no records of legal export to the Philippines. We also documented evidence of smuggling of at least 30 M. nigra individuals to the Philippines through seizure analysis. These findings warrant further research and investigation by authorities to determine the origins of M. nigra in captive wildlife facilities to assess whether they were legally acquired and to prevent the laundering of illegally acquired wildlife.
A new TRAFFIC study recorded more than 800 Indonesian birds for sale online in the Philippines between January 2018 and December 2019. Almost 1,300 Indonesian birds of at least 28 species were also confiscated from illegal trade in the Philippines between 2010 and 2020, according to the report Farmed or Poached? The trade of live Indonesian Bird Species in the Philippines. Scrutiny of international trade records uncovered discrepancies: a majority of the Indonesian bird species listed on CITES exported from the Philippines had questionable or no records of legal import into the Philippines. The records show that the Philippines had severely underreported their imports of Indonesian bird species compared to the numbers reported by exporters. In some cases, the export of Indonesian birds from the Philippines took place before the first reported legal importation.
Seahorses Hippocampus spp. are a unique group of fish characterized by their unusual morphology and male pregnancy. The current 48 seahorse species occur mainly in shallow seawaters globally, of which 10 species occur in the Philippines. Estimated annual seahorse collection in the Philippines for the traditional medicine trade was 4,000,000 individuals and up to 1,000,000 individuals for the live aquarium trade prior to 2004. Due to the significant international trade threatening the survival of seahorses in the wild, the genus Hippocampus was listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora Appendix II in 2004. Although seahorses are protected nationally under the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 and Wildlife Act of 2001, large-scale illegal collection in the wild continues. It was estimated that 1.7 million seahorse individuals were collected in the Philippines per year after 2004. Open-source seizure data were collated and official seizure records from 2010 to 2021 were analyzed to provide a status review on seahorse trade dynamics and analyze Philippine law enforcement efforts. Nineteen seizure incidents involving approximately 658 kg of dried seahorses (approximately 280,318 individuals) were recorded in the study period. In addition, 181 kg of dried pipefishes and sea dragons were recorded. While seizures occurred across eight islands, 13 incidents (68%) were documented in the central Philippines (Visayas and Palawan). Preliminary analysis of the seizure data suggests the following: 1) a significant portion (95−100%) of the illegal seahorse trade is not detected by law enforcement activities; 2) National Capital Region and Cebu are important exit points for international trade, and 3) pipefishes and sea dragons may be targeted as an alternative to seahorses.
CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is an international agreement among currently 183 Parties. It is based on the use of three Appendices, in which species are listed according to their need for regulation in international trade. The vast majority of all CITES species are listed in Appendix I and II. Appendix III works differently from the other two Appendices and is seldom used. If implemented correctly, the use of Appendix III could greatly contribute to positive conservation outcomes. Here, we use the Philippines as a case study to showcase the potential benefits of Appendix III listings for the conservation of nationally protected, native wildlife species. We provide an overview of wildlife trade involving the Philippines and relevant national legislation. We proceed by presenting the requirements of an Appendix III listing, under which circumstances it can succeed in assisting to protect native species, and the direct benefits to the Philippines as well as other countries striving to protect native wildlife from international illegal exploitation.
The global trade in wildlife affects most major taxonomic groups (Fukushima et al., 2020; Scheffers et al., 2019). Managing wildlife trade requires an accurate understanding of the dimensions of trade and its impacts (positive, neutral, or negative) on the conservation of native wildlife populations. We are concerned that assertions made by Natusch et al. (2021) in “The Perils of Flawed Science in Wildlife Trade Literature” undermine efforts to obtain a representative and accurate understanding of the dimensions, sustainability, and conservation implications of wildlife trade. Natusch et al. propose that suggestions of negative impacts of trade on species reflect that “philosophical biases are common in the scientific literature on trade in wildlife.” They draw this conclusion from a series of poorly evidenced and misleading assertions based on a report on the luxury and fashion trade in wildlife (Sosnowski & Petrossian, 2020). They present Sosnowski and Petrossian (2020) as “a key example … to illustrate the threat of philosophical bias in research on the wildlife trade” in reference to what they claim to be biases on the part of researchers seeking to better understand accurate measures of traded wildlife. We focused on misleading assertions in Natusch et al. that relate to several other studies that quantify impacts and dimensions of wildlife trade.
The illegal wildlife trade is one of the most lucrative transnational crimes in the world. Numerous wildlife are threatened with extinction due to overexploitation for food, medicine, and as pets. Although it is difficult to quantify the illegal wildlife trade due to its mostly clandestine nature, analyzing seizure data can indicate its magnitude. Wildlife seizure records from the DENR, PCSDS, and other sources for the period 2010–2019 were collated and analyzed to identify species threatened by the illegal wildlife trade, hotspots, and trafficking routes. The 10-year seizure dataset involved 511 incidents, 283 taxa, and 44,647 wildlife individuals. Reptiles (n = 16,237 individuals) and birds (n = 6,042) were the top seized live wildlife, while pangolin scales (>2,100 kg) had the most quantity and seizure frequency among derivatives. Intervention policies on the key source, transit, and destination locations were proposed to address illegal wildlife trade in the country.
Monitor lizards (genus Varanus) are utilized for their skin, meat and parts, or as pets. Eleven endemic species are currently recognized in the Philippines, including the only three known frugivorous monitor species in the world. We conducted a 30-month online study and reviewed 30 years (1989-2018) of CITES trade data to determine the dynamics of the live monitor lizard trade in the Philippines. A total of 541 individuals representing 13 species were documented for sale from September 2017 to February 2020. Varanus marmoratus (n = 266) was the most commonly-traded and least expensive species ($8-29 USD), while CITES Appendix-I listed V. komodoensis (n = 1) was the most expensive at $16,667 USD. CITES trade data showed that the Philippines imported 671 live individuals of 20 species from at least 20 countries and exported 144 live individuals of nine species during the period of 1989-2018. Exported non-native species did not have a legal source based on CITES trade data, while some of the endemic species were suspected to be wild-caught and fraudulently declared as captive bred to obtain CITES export permits. Based on these findings, recommendations to authorities include (1) close monitoring and taking action on illegal wildlife traders offering animals for sale online, (2) putting in place a more robust regulatory and verification process to prevent wildlife laundering in the country, and (3) enhancing vigilance to intercept the illegal import and export of wildlife.
The Philippine or Palawan Forest Turtle Siebenrockiella leytensis is the only endemic turtle known to occur in the Philippines. It was assessed as Critically Endangered in 2000 and has been considered as one of the world's top 25 most endangered turtles since 2003. The species is accorded protection nationally by the Wildlife Protection and Conservation Act of 2001 and its international commercial trade is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). However, the publication of its rediscovery in 2004 triggered unrelenting poaching and trafficking for the pet trade nationally and internationally. With the aim of quantifying the extent of poaching and to provide insight on the trade dynamics, we analyzed seizure records from 2004-2018 and conducted physical and online market surveys in 2017-2018. Twenty-three (23) seizure incidents involving 4,723 Philippine Forest Turtles were recorded in the last 15 years. Based on an online survey, we estimated that an additional 1,200 Philippine Forest Turtles were smuggled and illegally sold in China in 2015. The majority of the 74 live individuals exported legally from the Philippines were likely sourced illegally from the wild and declared fraudulently as captive bred by exporters to obtain CITES permits. While habitat loss or degradation is a major threat, the illegal pet trade remains the most important factor threatening the survival of the Philippine Forest Turtles in the wild.
Seizure data analysis from 2000–2017 documented 38 cases involving an estimated 667 to 740 Philippine Pangolins. Additionally, 10 tonnes of frozen Sunda Pangolins involving 2,870 animals were confiscated from a vessel in 2013. In the most recent period from 2018–2019, a total of 28 incidents comprising seizures and retrievals involving an estimated 6,894 Philippine Pangolins.The more than nine-fold increase in Philippine Pangolin seizures in the last two years alone is alarming. Recommendations are made, in line with outcomes from the Conservation Planning Workshop for the Philippine Pangolin in 2018, to address the ongoing illegal trade of pangolins in the country.
The Tokay Gecko Gekko gecko is traded internationally in the millions annually for use in traditional medicines and to a lesser extent, for the pet trade. The vast majority of Tokay Geckos are collected in the wild and apparent captive-bred individuals may be in fact wild-caught as well. A get-rich-quick scheme involving the trade of Tokay Gecko across Southeast Asia began in 2009. Foreign buyers were purportedly willing to pay PHP1,000,000-500,000,000 (USD20,000- 10,000,000) for Tokay Geckos weighing 300-1,000g per individual to cure human immunodeficiency virus (HIV/AIDS), impotence, and cancer. Seizure data between 2010 and 2012 from seven islands in the Philippines documented 24 cases involving 2,092 Tokay Gecko individuals. A proposal to list the Tokay Gecko in the CITES Appendix II was submitted by the Philippines, European Union, India, and the United States to monitor, regulate, and assist in preventing illegal and unsustainable trade and was eventually accepted by the Parties during the 18th meeting of the Conference of Parties (CoP18) in August 2019. We strongly recommend CITES Parties make full and effective use of CITES in preventing over-exploitation of the Tokay Gecko.
The Philippine Forest Turtle Siebenrockiella leytensis is a critically endangered species endemic to the Palawan group of islands. Evidence of this species breeding in captivity is very scarce and limited to two documented events. Although strictly protected, illegal trade seems to continue with sightings of this species in China, USA, and Europe. Here we report the results of a six-month survey in nine countries/regions carried out to estimate the availability of this species in the online pet trade. Two adult Philippine Forest Turtles were offered for sale in a Japanese pet store. In addition, an advertisement was found outside the study period in Hong Kong, suggesting that there is still international demand for this critically endangered species.
Trading exotic amphibians is a cause for concern due to its possible negative effects. A checklist of exotic amphibians in the Philippine pet trade was compiled based on surveys conducted between 2008 and 2013. Thirty five exotic species were documented, including the African Clawed Frog (Xenopus laevis), a widely available species in the trade and a known vector of the chytrid fungus. Strict trade restriction and monitoring of X. laevis is recommended.
Illegal trade in wildlife in Indonesia is rampant, and includes many little-known species, such as the Sulawesi Bear Cuscus Ailurops ursinus. Too often the trade in less charismatic species goes unnoticed, with many being pushed towards extinction. Sadly, few, if any, effective interventions are put in place to prevent further declines. The demand for the Sulawesi Bear Cuscus appears to be small but growing both nationally and internationally and increasingly, carried out on online platforms, making enforcement of existing policies difficult. Legal protection for Sulawesi Bear Cuscus in Indonesia is inadequate, obstructing effective enforcement efforts. Furthermore, the species is not listed in the Appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), making international control impossible. Here we examine the trade in Indonesia’s bear cuscus species and make recommendations for more effective prevention of illegal trade at national and international levels.
The illegal wildlife trade is a major threat to an increasingly long list of species, and nowhere is this threat greater than in Southeast Asia. The demand for live animals from Southeast Asian countries for the exotic pet trade threatens a wide variety of species, including some already on the brink of extinction. Here we report on seizures made of the Critically Endangered western long-beaked echidna Zaglossus bruijnii, which took place in the Philippines in 2014. The animals originated from Indonesia where they are totally protected by law. Indonesia, however, remains a major source of illegally acquired wildlife for the international trade and it is imperative that actions is taken, nationally and internationally, to reduce current levels of illegal trade and ultimately to ensure species like the western long-beaked echidna are no longer threatened. Journal of Indonesian Natural History Vol 5 No 1/2: 22-26
The trade in live reptiles as pets has increased significantly in the last three decades with Asian countries playing an increasing role as important trade hubs and consumers. In the Philippines, all non-native and native reptile species are protected under the Wildlife Act of 2001 and enthusiasts are required to obtain permits to keep reptiles legally. Physical markets were traditionally the main source of live reptiles, but some illegal wildlife traders suspected to have been displaced by successful enforcement actions have increasingly turned to online platforms to continue their illicit trading activities. Facebook is an immensely popular social networking website with more than 47 million active monthly users in the Philippines. Recognising the increasing importance of Facebook in live reptile trade, TRAFFIC researchers conducted a three-month survey from June–August 2016 to elucidate current trade dynamics, analyse trends, and identify areas for future work. CITES trade data for non-native reptiles imported to the Philippines from 2005–2016 were also analysed to determine species and quantities imported into the country over the 12-year period. A total of 2245 unique live reptile advertisements representing 115 taxa and a minimum of 5082 individuals were posted by 1046 traders in 90 pre-selected Facebook groups. The cumulative membership (i.e. summed membership without removing people who were members of multiple groups) in the 90 Facebook groups at the beginning of the survey was 359 328, but quickly increased by 11% within three months. The estimated potential value of all advertised reptiles recorded during this study was PHP26 451 345 (USD570 148).