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Pandemic brought new hurdles to curbing lucrative illegal wildlife trade



Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu inspects confiscated sulfur crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita) and other species at the Biodiversity Management Bureau Wildlife Rescue Center in Quezon City in this March 2018 photo. — DENR

THE GLOBAL health emergency made efforts to monitor and curb the lucrative illegal wildlife trade more challenging as fewer manpower could be deployed, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said on March 3, observed as World Wildlife Day.

“The COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic has made it more difficult for us at the DENR to keep poachers and hunters at bay with less eyes and boots on the ground,” DENR Undersecretary Jim O. Sampulna said during the World Wildlife Day celebration on Wednesday.

Despite the challenges, however, collaborative programs kept wildlife protection active.

Last week, Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu lauded the inter-agency task force Philippine Operations Group on Ivory and Illegal Wildlife (POGI) for winning the 2020 Asia Environmental Enforcement Awards conferred by the United Nations Environment Programme.

Mr. Sampulna, citing a 2019 Asian Development Bank (ADB) study, said wildlife crime was considered as the fourth most lucrative illegal business after the trafficking of weapons, drugs and people.

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“Our country is losing an estimated 50 billion (pesos) yearly from wildlife crime alone (which is) not just destroying pristine habitats like our forests, lakes and coral reefs, but reducing their capacity to provide food, water, medicine, shelter and livelihoods for millions of our fellow Filipinos,” he said.

The ADB study identified the Philippines as a consumer, source and transit point for illegal wildlife trade, which posed a threat to economic development and biodiversity, among others.

Mr. Cimatu, in his keynote speech for the World Wildlife Day celebration delivered by DENR Undersecretary Ernesto D. Adobo, Jr., said the country must find ways to develop its economy while maintaining the integrity of its forest ecosystems.

“This step forward means effective collaboration by enforcement agencies… the creation of a sustainable model for managing our ecosystems; legislating pro-environmental rules; and establishing which would lead to efficient investigation and prosecution of environmental crimes,” Mr. Cimatu said.

In November, DENR Undersecretary for Environment and International Environment Affairs Jonas R. Leones said the department would continue efforts to stem illegal wildlife trade to prevent the spread of microbial infections from animals to humans. Angelica Y. Yang

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