Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has called on the public to remain vigilant against wildlife crime and help the government in its intensified campaign to fight illegal wildlife trade that has been driving endangered species to the brink of extinction.

“If you know any illegal wildlife trade, we enjoin you to work hand in glove with us in curtailing this nefarious trade by informing us so we can act decisively and fast against these illegal traders,” Cimatu said.

The environment chief made the call when he led the local celebration of Earth Day held at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center in Quezon City last April 24. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Protect Our Species: Ikaw, Ako, TayoangKalikasan,” which is dedicated to the protection of endangered wildlife.

Cimatu said the theme proved timely as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources— through the Philippine Operations Group of Ivory and Illegal Wildlife Trade or Task Force POGI—and other government agencies have intensified their operations against illegal wildlife traders.

Earlier this month, Task Force POGI—a composite team of wildlife enforcers from various agencies including the Biodiversity Management Bureau, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and the Philippine National Police—seized 450 species of bird, mammals and reptiles worth over P50 million during a raid conducted in Mati City, Davao Oriental.

The wildlife species, which include the endangered black palm cockatoos and echidna, were reportedly smuggled from Indonesia.

Also this month, the Bureau of Customs intercepted more than 700 live venomous tarantulas, with combined estimated value of P310,000 at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The interception led to the arrest of two suspects, one of them is a consignee of the shipment from Poland.

In March, NBI operatives swooped down in Binondo, Manila and arrested a businessman after stocks of bird’s nest and dried seahorses were found in his drugstore. A total of 30 containers of edible bird’s nest worth P575,000 were confiscated.

Allegedly from Palawan and Thailand, the bird’s nests were made using the solidified saliva of swiftlets or balinsasayaw (Collocaliini). The threads of the solidified saliva were collected for use as main ingredient in an expensive soup.

During a separate operation in the same area, the Task Force POGI also seized some 20 individuals of golden chicken fern (Cibotiumbarometz) estimated to cost around Php40, 000.

The golden chicken fern is originally from Sierra Madre, and is included in the Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that the plant species cannot be “exported, possessed, and traded without securing the necessary wildlife permits.”

The suspects in all four operations have been charged for violating Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources and Protection Act, which defines and penalizes illegal wildlife trade. Under the law, unlawful trading, possession and transport of wildlife species, as well as their derivatives and by-products, are punishable by a jail term of up to two years and a fine of not more than P200,000.

Cimatu said there will be no let-up in the fight against illegal wildlife trade. “We will never let our guard down against animal poachers and traffickers. We will never allow our beloved country to be a transhipment point for this unlawful activity,” he stressed.

Apart from curbing illegal wildlife trade, the DENR is also active in making sure the species will have a healthy environment to live “by leading a call for decisive action among governments across the world to address the impacts of plastic pollution and enhance the coordination of global policies for coral reef management.”

Resolutions pushing for these reforms were co-sponsored by the Philippines during the fourth meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-4) at the United Nations Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya last March.

According to Cimatu, it is expected that these international efforts “will lead to a greater hope for the Philippines and the world to continue cutting down on plastic use as more policies will be influenced by a greater call for environmental protection.”

As these efforts to protect the wildlife are ongoing both locally and nationally, Cimatu then reiterated the call to the Filipinos, stressing its importance for the future generations: “Let’s love and care for our environment and our wildlife species because this is our noble and great legacy to our children and their children.” ###