Illegal wildlife traders target endemic geckos
BACOLOD CITY, Philippines—The tuko has been making a lot of noise in the wildlife trade—and conservationists don’t like what they’re hearing.
Environment officials here are looking into reports that foreigners have been offering hefty sums to buy native geckos, locally known as tuko, a nocturnal lizard one would either love or hate for the loud sound it makes.
Some buyers are reportedly willing to pay P100,000 or more each for geckos that weigh at least 500 grams, according to Valentin Talavero, head of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office.
Among the purported buyers are Korean and Chinese nationals, the latter said to be interested in geckos for their AIDS research, Talavero told the Inquirer on Monday.
Errol Abada Gatumbato, vice president and managing director of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc., said gecko “collection” seemed to have gone unchecked not only in Negros, but in other provinces where the species still thrive.
Reports reaching his group indicated that the sought-after lizards were being used either for gaming or medicinal purposes, Gatumbato added.
“This is quite alarming because there are endemic geckos with conservation values,” he added, citing sketchy accounts of “clandestine buying” all over the country.
In interviews with the Inquirer, several Negrenses who asked not to be identified admitted to poaching the native gecko population for sale to foreign buyers.
A more enterprising resident said he even “fattened” the lizards first in captivity.
But whether in rural or urban areas, one need not look far to have a sense of the growing tuko trafficking.
For example, information on which types of geckos are in demand—and how to sell them—is easily available on www.tuko.com.ph.
The website even lists down the characteristics of a “perfect tuko.” To supposedly fetch a higher price, a gecko should sport red, orange or white spots on its skin, their feet splayed flat and shaped like a flower.
A marketable gecko should also weigh 400 grams or more, with a body length of at least 21 inches, the website said. It should look healthy—no severed body parts—and fed with food (mainly insects) found in their natural environment.
The gecko must also be active and fierce when one tries to hold it, the website added.
Geckos are also sold at sulit.com.ph, a popular buy-and-sell site.
And yet on paper, the prized lizards supposedly enjoy the full protection of the law.
Under the Wildlife Act of the Philippines, the collection of wildlife species such as the tuko requires a permit from the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB), Gatumbato said.
Reached for comment in Manila, PAWB Director Theresa Mundita Lim maintained that poaching and selling geckos are “illegal activities.”
But lacking ample data on the country’s gecko population, the government could not ascertain at the moment whether the species should be considered endangered or not, Lim said.
“We need to ensure first that its natural population will not be affected. Without that, it’s illegal to catch it,” the PAWB chief stressed.
Demand in China
According to Lim, geckos largely figure in the wildlife trade because of a demand in China, where their body parts are used in Chinese medicine.
Joan Gerangaya, head of the City Environment and Natural Resource Office, said several locals had asked his office to issue permits to “transport” tuko, but that they were all turned down since it would be in violation of the wildlife act.
Those interested in “breeding” tuko, however, may secure special permits from regional offices of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Gerangaya added. With a report from Kristine L. Alave in Manila