THEY were arrested for harvesting seagrass.
It’s not indicated in the May 18, 2013 report of Sun.Star Zamboanga if the suspects apprehended in Zamboanga del Norte knew that this particular brown variety of seagrass is covered by Republic Act (RA) 9147, also known as the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act.
But in other cases of wildlife smuggling, perpetrators can hardly claim ignorance about wildlife crime.
Just last month, a raiding team came upon carnage in a Tondo house. Carcasses of five juvenile Saltwater Crocodiles, 78 Palawan Hill Mynahs and 12 Blue-naped Parrots were found in the residence, which an informer fingered as a holding pen of a suspected wildlife trader supplying Metro Manila markets for “exotic” house pets.
The body count is not the most nauseating aspect of the affair. It is the report that the animals were killed to keep them from making a noise and alerting authorities.
Trivial and bestial
Stopping cruelty to animals is not the only reason behind the campaign against illegal smuggling of wildlife.
The global trafficking of wildlife drives species to extinction and destroys also critical habitats.
Transactions like the foiled 2011 smuggling of P35 million worth of 196 kilos of sea whips corals, 161 heads of preserved hawksbill and green turtles, 7,300 pieces of seashells, and 21,169 pieces of black corals is driven by the demand for traditional medicine and fashion accessories.
Wildlife trafficking supports a network that ranges from small-scale hunters to black market traders who kill an animal only to harvest its parts, such as the skin, tusks, fins, shell, horns and internal organs.
These are the accessories sought after by aficionados of exotic pets, food, traditional medicine, luxury fashion, and home decors.
Authorities must strictly enforce wildlife laws to curb trafficking.
They must aggressively pursue legal actions against violators of environmental laws.
The Supreme Court has designated special courts or green courts for this purpose.
Section 28 of RA 9147 states that any person who kills and destroys a critically endangered species may face an imprisonment of a maximum of 12 years and/or fine of as much as P1 million, reported Sun.Star Manila on May 25, 2011.
Poachers of turtles and corals can also be prosecuted for violating the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998. The code disallows gathering, owning, selling or exporting of ordinary precious and semiprecious corals and provides a prison term of six months to two years, and a fine of up to P500,000.
However, it is by killing the demand for the “exotic” that citizens can strike
decisively against wildlife profiteers.
Last month, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources 7 rescued 143 birds abandoned along Magallanes St.
The seized African Lovebirds, Hanging Parakeets, Coletos, Rufous Hornbills, Large-billed Crows, Lack-capped Lories, and Tarictic Hornbills would have sold quickly among housewives and other local bird lovers.
Animal cruelty, not pet love, drives the greed to possess something wild and rare, which most people will not be able to afford. Illegally trafficked animals are trapped, smuggled in small cages, driven mad by hunger, heat and stress, and disposed without pity when they prove to be too “hot” for traders.
Providing livelihood for small-scale hunters can hardly be sustained since the illegal traffic abandons the young, kills adult animals to get the young, and destroys the habitats of Palawan, refuge of the country’s dwindling wildlife and favorite hunting grounds for modern poachers.
Last June, Philippine authorities destroyed a stockpile of confiscated elephant tusks.
This makes the country the first in Asia to act decisively against the global trade of wildlife.
Yet, we must do more to prove, as DENR officials say, that we are “dead serious” about wildlife crime and ecological destruction.