MANILA, Philippines—Wildlife officials are trying to determine if the hundreds of pangolin carcasses seized from the Chinese fishing vessel that ran aground on Tubbataha Reefs on April 8 are local species.
Theresa Mundita Lim, director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, said she was alarmed by reports that some 400 boxes, each containing five to six pangolins, or scaly anteaters, had been discovered aboard F/N Min Long Yu, whose crew were charged with poaching and other violations.
“That’s a big number. Even if these pangolins were not Philippine species, it doesn’t matter because pangolins are considered threatened species, and they are still liable for violations under CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora),” she said.
Lim said she would lead a PAWB team on a visit to Palawan on Friday to check if the seized carcasses of “dressed or rolled-up” pangolins were Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis) a species endemic to Palawan.
“We will try to identify them based on their exterior, that is, if it’s still possible in their condition,” she said.
Lim said Philippine pangolins are generally smaller than other pangolins. “They are very shy and curl up in a ball when they are in danger, which makes it easy for humans to just pick them up in the wild,” she said.
According to the World Wildlife Fund-Philippines, pangolins are scaly mammals that look like “sloth-like olive lizards,” and range throughout Asia and Africa.
“Eight species exist—all threatened by habitat loss plus the illegal trade for their meat and unique scales, which are used for both traditional medicine and the curio trade,” WWF-Philippines said in a statement.
“It is bad enough that these Chinese have illegally entered our seas, navigated without boat papers and crashed recklessly into a national marine park and World Heritage Site,” WWF-Philippines vice chair and CEO Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan said.
“It is simply deplorable that they appear to be posing as fishermen to trade in illegal wildlife.
Should the carcasses check out as Philippine pangolin, we can be sure they were being smuggled out of Palawan. In which case, the full force of the Philippine Wildlife Act should be applied,” he said.
Lim said the foreigners could face a fine of up to P300,000 and a jail term of up to four years if convicted.
WWF-Philippines said the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff is set to lodge legal action against the 12 Chinese fishermen, who are already facing poaching charges in violation of Republic Act No. 10067 for their illegal entry into the Tubbataha Reefs, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
“The illegal wildlife trade, estimated to yield at least $19 billion per year, has become a lucrative business for criminal syndicates because the risk involved is low compared with other crimes,” WWF-Philippines said.
It added that pangolins are widely hunted and traded for their alleged medicinal properties. “They are among the most commonly encountered mammals in Asia’s wildlife trade and alarming numbers have been seized throughout East and Southeast Asia in recent years,” the group said.