The Philippine Pangolin (Manis culionensis), known locally as balintong, mostly found on the Palawan faunal region, has the most restricted range among the eight pangolin species, with a decreasing population trend. The species has been considered protected and prohibited from any form of hunting, possession or trade in the Philippines since 2004. In December 2019, the species was globally assessed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a reflection of its severely threatened status.
However, a new report published by TRAFFIC, an NGO that monitors the international trade of wild animals and plants, revealed that illegal pangolin trade in the country increased nine-fold in the last two years, with authorities confiscating an estimated 6,894 pangolins between 2018 and 2019. It was estimated that the species of Philippine Pangolin has declined by up to 95 percent in the last 40 years.
The report, entitled “Endangered by Trade: The Ongoing Illegal Pangolin Trade in the Philippines”, found through ad hoc surveys that pangolin meat was continuously being served in some restaurants in Metro Manila, although it was not advertised on the menu and only available on a pre-order basis. Some shops offer pills used as traditional medicine and folk remedies that were made from pangolin scales.
Despite legislations and international trade regulations protecting the Philippine Pangolin, poaching and illegal trade continue. The report cited lack of investigations, few successful arrests and prosecutions, and low penalties among the greatest challenges in efforts to curb pangolin trafficking in the country.
On the other hand, exotic, wild animals consumed as food have been suspected to be responsible for the COVID-19 virus. It is believed that the disease could have originated from horseshoe bats or snakes. Nevertheless, a study by a team of bioinformaticians from the University of Michigan suggests that pangolins may have served as the host that transmitted the coronavirus to people and caused the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The spread of the COVID-19 should serve as a wake-up call to everyone to stop the proliferation of illegal wildlife trade and consumption of exotic foods. The laws on Philippine wildlife protection and conservation must be strictly implemented, amid the escalating threats of biodiversity loss and the global pandemic due to zoonotic diseases.
The 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.