Relief for trafficked wildlife | Inquirer Opinion

Relief for trafficked wildlife

/ 05:00 AM March 08, 2020

As international observers have noted, the novel coronavirus outbreak now disrupting the global community has had a positive impact in one aspect: It has curbed the trafficking of wildlife.

COVID-19 is prompting governments, particularly in Asia, to enact measures that will discourage or ban outright the illegal trade of wild and exotic animals, believed to have been the source of the virus that originated in Wuhan, central China.


Since the first case was reported in Wuhan in December, COVID-19 has infected more than 102,000 and killed almost 3,500, spreading to 97 countries and territories. As scientists rush to come up with a cure, governments across the world are scrambling to impose measures to contain the virus.

Last month, China approved a ban on the trade and consumption of wild animals while imposing strict measures on their use for scientific research.


The Philippines, where illegal wildlife trade is valued at P50 billion a year, is batting for amendments to a 19-year-old law to include stiffer penalties for illegal traders.

The Biodiversity Conference in Kuala Lumpur has also put the illicit wildlife trade problem on top of its agenda later this month.

Illegal wildlife trade, according to the Asian Development Bank report “Addressing Illegal Wildlife Trade in the Philippines” released in March 2019, is valued at $10-23 billion globally per year, “making wildlife crime the fourth most lucrative illegal business after narcotics, human trafficking, and arms.”

Of this multibillion-dollar industry, said US-based think tank Wilson Center, China is the biggest market, with “Chinese demand for wildlife products… driving a global trade in endangered species.”

As China’s economy grew in the 1980s, so did the demand for wild and exotic animals; the illicit trade now has well-established trade routes in Southeast Asia, making the crime difficult to curtail without networking among governments, the Analytical Centre of Excellence on Trafficking (ACET) said in a separate report last year.

ACET noted that in the early years of the trade, the species that were in demand and fetched high prices included turtles, snakes, and frogs, while the market for bear gallbladder, rhino horn, elephant ivory, pangolins and big cat body parts was still small and was only growing.

Today, tigers, elephants, bears, and pangolins are the top four most illegally traded animals. The market in Wuhan, where COVID-19 is believed to have originated last December, sold other live mammals such as bats and civets. These animals were linked to the spread of SARS in 2002 that also originated from China.


Interestingly, Chinese celebrities and athletes have joined numerous campaigns over the years to fight illegal wildlife trafficking. But all it took was a deadly coronavirus to finally get Beijing to decisively lower the boom on the illegal trade.

In the Philippines, Occidental Mindoro Rep. Josephine Ramirez Sato has filed House Bill No. 265 as early as July last year to amend Republic Act No. 9147, or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act enacted in 2001.

HB 265 proposes stiffer penalties, including reclusion temporal or imprisonment of up to 20 years, for those who kill or destroy critically endangered species; violators will face a fine from P200,000 to P2 million.

RA 9147 only imposes up to 12 years’ jail time and/or fines from P100,000 to P1 million. In addition, illegal traders can be jailed up to four years and fined from P50,000 to P600,000.

Under the current law, they only get a two-year jail time and fined from P5,000 to P300,000.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has backed the bill, noting that wildlife trafficking in the country has remained unabated and has resulted in the loss of precious resources. The Philippines has been a signatory since 1992 to the Convention on Biological Diversity, a multilateral treaty that promotes conservation of biodiversity and ensures sustainable use of resources.

But despite this commitment and the multibillion-peso seizure of trafficked wildlife over the years, the Philippines remains “a consumer, source, and transit point for illegal wildlife trade, threatening endemic species populations, economic development, and biodiversity,” the ADB report said.

Among the most traded species in the country are the Philippine forest turtle and Palawan pangolin — both of which are endemic — and are in demand for their meat and, in the case of the pangolin, for its scales used in traditional medicine.

The DENR said wildlife trafficking is now a transnational crime similar to the illegal trafficking of drugs and of persons. As such, it demands a similarly vigorous response from the government to put an end to this harmful trade.

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