Leaders of an environment group are convinced a big time syndicate has entered the illegal trade of endangered animals in the Philippines and is behind the latest attempt to smuggle animal parts from Palawan.
On Monday, airport authorities seized four boxes with 95 kilograms of anteater scales and four boxes with 90.5 kg of marine turtle scutes.
Workers of a courier firm, Air 21, were loading the boxes into a Cebu Pacific flight bound for Cebu City when members of the environmental watchdog Bantay Dagat (coast watch), officials of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and policemen came and stopped them.
On Wednesday, authorities again seized another 11 boxes that contained 26.5 kilos of frozen meat of anteater.
The anteater, described as a scale-covered mammal that has a long snout and a sticky tongue for catching and eating ants and termites, is considered a delicacy in Chinese restaurants. Its scales are also believed to be popular among the Chinese for their supposed medicinal qualities.
Turtle scutes, keratin plates that make up a turtle shell, are used to decorate guitars and are made into other handicraft products. Among many other things, Cebu is known for its guitar-making industry.
Both animals can still be found in the wilds of and water off Palawan but environmentalists warned they are quickly “vanishing,” the reason they have been placed on the endangered species list.
The seized animal parts were immediately turned over to the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD).
“We think this is a big time syndicate,” said lawyer Adelina Benavente-Villena, chief of PCSD enforcement and legal services division, by phone on Thursday.
She said she believed the animal scales and meat might have come from one group that illegally exported the animal parts.
Villena said a kilogram of anteater scales is being sold for P5,000, while a kilogram of turtle shells sells for P4,000.
Villena said based on the courier’s documents, the animal scales came from a certain Novelito Rendon, with an address in Puerto Princesa City and were declared to be boxes of dried fish.
The anteater meat, meanwhile, were owned by a certain Lucio Ong, who declared the shipped goods as frozen goat’s meat.
The PCSD is now investigating the case. Villena said her group would also file charges against the couriers for failing to inspect the boxes.