Endangered turtles smuggled to HK returned to PalawanBy Redempto D. Anda
Philippine Daily Inquirer
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY–Palawan on Thursday received from Hong Kong authorities a shipment of rare and critically endangered freshwater turtles and other animals highly prized in the black market pet trade which were confiscated from a traveling Chinese national last week.
The returned shipment included 39 Philippine forest turtles–a rare species highly sought in international pet trade and found only in Palawan–,19 Mindanao water monitors, 49 Asian box turtles and a reticulated python.
Palawan Gov. Abraham Kahlil Mitra received the animals and had them immediately turned over to the conservation NGO Katala Foundation for rehabilitation and eventual release back to the wild.
Mitra noted that the shipper, a certain Zhang Wen Wei who was apprehended by Hong Kong authorities last June 14, was the same person arrested and detained for six weeks in February this year for attempting to smuggle into China the same animal species in large quantities.
Wei reportedly obtained his release from a Hong Kong jail and was able to travel back to the Philippines in March to collect the prized animals from suppliers in Palawan and in Mindanao.
Wei was detained in Hong Kong anew after Chinese authorities found a total of 137 reptiles in his baggage.
The animals were shipped back to the Philippines Tuesday and was first received by the DENR Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau before the bulk were transported back to Palawan. Some of the animals that reportedly came from other parts of the country were still under the care of PAWB.
Former senator Miguel Zubiri, chair of Katala Foundation, said the turtles and the other animals will first undergo rehabilitation before they are released back into the wild.
Zubiri expressed frustration over the alleged failure of Philippine airport authorities to detect the shipment and prevent it from leaving the country.
“This was the second time already this happened and involved the same Chinese traveler. It’s unforgivable that our airport authorities even failed to detect the cargo when we have X-rays that should have been able to detect the shipment,” Zubiri said.
Mitra, for his part, said the provincial government will invite customs and airport officials to appear before the provincial board for questioning “on why it seems our ability to detect shipments like this is very weak.”
“Our X-ray machines are supposed to detect heat and chemicals. The body signatures were supposed to be seen on these machines,” Zubiri said.
Mitra added that the provincial government will pass a measure to declare the Chinese national a “persona non grata”.
The Philippine forest turtle (Siebenrockiella leytensis) is recorded as found only in northern Palawan. It is listed in the IUCN international red list as “critically endangered.”
Dr. Sabine Schoppe, a scientist from Katala Foundation, said the turtles are being sold in the Hong Kong black market “at prices ranging from US$4,000 to 3,000 euros.”