A FEW weeks ago, I saw a story in this paper about Luzon monitor lizards (Varanus marmoratus), locally called "bayawak," being confiscated by personnel from the provincial office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Two vendors were caught selling the eleven live bayawak in Sasmuan, Pampanga.
Were those vendors aware that selling bayawak is illegal? When I was a kid, catching bayawak is no big deal. I don’t think it was prohibited back then. They were abundant. Today, however, it’s an entirely different situation. Their numbers have dwindled because of hunting and habitat loss. Some people are probably unaware that hunting them is now illegal, though some intentionally catch them. They are called poachers.
In the old days, too, there are people who hunt wildlife like wild ducks or Philippine Mallard, known locally as dumara. They are even sold along Mc Arthur Highway. A few years ago, "tuko” or geckos were hunted because of their alleged medicinal properties. Their sale and trading even went viral on social media. Once in a while, pythons or "sawa," appear in someone’s backyard. Some are killed and even eaten. Incidentally, have you noticed that tarebalaks (Lygosoma smaragdinum) are now rarely seen?
So what should we do about wildlife species? Can we catch, sell, or take them as pets? The answer is no. There is now a law that prohibits the hunting and trading of wildlife without a permit from the DENR. The law is Republic Act (RA) 9147, the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, approved in 2001. Wildlife here is defined as wild forms and varieties of plants and animals, in all developmental stages, including those which are in captivity or are being bred or propagated. The law protects all wildlife, not only those classified as endangered species.
Note that the law says “collection” of wildlife, so taking them from the wild as pets are also prohibited unless there is a permit from DENR. No wonder many pet shops were raided by DENR for possessing and selling wild animals. Violators of RA 9147 may be fined or imprisoned or both.
It is not only animals that are prohibited to be collected but also plants. So a word of caution for plantitos and plantitas, do not collect plant species from the wild without a permit. The collection of wild flora directly from the forest, especially those considered as threatened species, without a permit is also prohibited under Republic Act 9147.
Threatened Philippine plant species are listed under DENR DAO 2001-01. The list was updated in 2017 with DAO 2017-11. For wild animals, the list is contained in DENR DAO 2004-15 and was updated by DAO 2019-09. You can download these lists from the internet.
The prohibition in the collection of wildlife is meant to protect us humans, too. Remember that the Covid-19 virus was said to have originated from bats. Animals can sometimes carry harmful germs that can spread to people and cause illness. These are known as zoonotic diseases. Wild plants, too, act as important reservoirs and sources of insects, mites and nematodes.
In case you chance upon a bayawak, or sawa, you may inform your local officials who will then contact the nearest field office of the DENR. In Pampanga, the Penro office is in Guagua while the regional office is inside the government center in Maimpis, City of San Fernando. As for tuko, tarebalak and other wildlife that are not a threat to us, just leave them undisturbed in their natural habitat.