LAST March 3 was World Wildlife Day. It is a relatively new environmental commemoration, started only seven years ago. It was proclaimed on December 20, 2013 at the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants.
This commemoration is significant to the Philippines because it is one of the 17 megadiverse countries which host 70 to 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity. Our country has more than 52,177 described species, half of which are endemic or can be found only in the Philippines.
The theme for World Wildlife Day this 2020 is “Sustaining all life on Earth”, encompassing all wild animal and plant species as key components of the world’s biodiversity. This aligns with UN Sustainable Development Goals 1, 12, 14 and 15, and their wide-ranging commitments on alleviating poverty, ensuring sustainable use of resources, and on conserving life both on land and below water to halt biodiversity loss.
Even before the declaration of March 3 as World Wildlife Day, the Philippines has already taken steps to protect its wildlife. In 2001, Republic Act 9147, otherwise known as the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, was passed.
The objectives of the law are to conserve and protect wildlife species and their habitats; to promote ecological balance and enhance biological diversity; to regulate the collection and trade of wildlife; to pursue, with due regard to the national interest, the Philippine commitment to international conventions, protection of wildlife and their habitats; and to initiate or support scientific studies on the conservation of biological diversity.
The intent of the declaration of World Wildlife Day was covered by RA 9147. The Philippines needs to just strictly implement this law. However, I believe public awareness and appreciation of this law is lacking. Ordinary citizens are unaware of it so they just catch, sell or kill wildlife and encroach into their habitat.
For instance, I rarely see a “tarebalak” nowadays. The “bayawak” or “barag” was hunted to near extinction for its meat. The “tuko”, or gecko, was massively hunted in 2011 for their alleged medicinal properties. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources debunked this claim and warned the public that catching “tuko” is against RA 9147.
Then there are the bigtime poachers. Wildlife crime is considered the fourth most lucrative illegal business on the planet, after narcotics, human trafficking and firearms, according to the World Bank’s Global Wildlife Program.
In the Philippines, it is a big business. According to Theresa Mundita Lim, executive director of the Asean Centre for Biodiversity, the country is reportedly losing P50 billion every year due to the illegal wildlife trade.
More than money, it is the contribution of each species to its ecosystem that is important.