Around 6,894 pangolins were seized from illegal wildlife trade in the Philippines from 2018-2019 pointing to a “troubling” nine-fold increase in the confiscation of the critically endangered animal over the last two decades, according to international non-government organization, Traffic.
In its study titled “Endangered by Trade: The Ongoing Illegal Pangolin Trade in the Philippines,” Traffic pointed out the seizure of some 1,154.31 kilograms of pangolin scales in Palawan in September 2019 alone.
It also included a series of unusual rescues called “retrievals” in which individual live pangolins were found wandering the streets of Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
“There were 18 retrieval incidents, all occurring approximately 600 kilometers away from the natural range of the Philippine pangolin, Manis culionensis, which is found only in the Palawan faunal region and has the smallest range among the world’s eight pangolin species,” the study found.
During the period, Traffic also made further discoveries of pangolin meat and medicines being offered in some cities.
From January until March this year alone, 20 Philippine pangolins have been confiscated from a trafficker in Palawan and three more retrieval incidents of smuggled pangolins took place in Luzon, it said.
“While the rise in pangolin seizures speaks to successful enforcement action, it is also deeply alarming news for this rare animal,” Traffic senior communications officer Elizabeth John said in a statement.
“With pressure continuing to mount, the only hope for the Philippine Pangolin is by stamping out the illegal trade through thorough investigations into poaching and trafficking cases, more prosecutions and solid convictions of traffickers,” John added.
Authorities also confiscated over 10 tons of frozen Sunda Pangolins Manis javanica from a vessel that crashed into the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in 2013.
The authors of the study cited the lack of investigations, few successful arrests and prosecutions, and low penalties as among the greatest challenges in efforts to curb pangolin trafficking in the Philippines.
The first conviction of pangolin traffickers outside Palawan occurred only in July 2019 when a court in Cavite sentenced three traffickers to three months in jail and a P20,000 or US$394 fine each for illegally transporting 10 pangolins.
Last month, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) called for the amendment of the Republic Act 9147, or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of 2001 as culprits appear undeterred by the punishments provided under the law.
Currently, the highest penalties are imposed on those guilty of killing critically endangered wildlife—jail term of six years and one day to 12 years and/or payment of fine ranging from ₱100,000 to ₱1 million.
For hunting and trading, the penalty ranges from two to four years of imprisonment and/or fine of ₱30,000 to ₱300,000 for hunting and ₱5,000 to ₱300,000 for trading wildlife.
For the mere transport of wildlife, the penalty is six months to one-year imprisonment and/or ₱50,000 to ₱100,000 fine.