World Pangolin Day 2016: Efforts to protect Palawan pangolin continue

by | Feb 20, 2016

The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS), the implementing arm of multi-sectoral and interdisciplinary body PCSD, continuously pursuing its initiatives to protect the Palawan-endemic Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis), which faces very high risk of extinction due to illegal wildlife trade and habitat loss caused by agricultural expansion and slash-and-burn farming.

In an effort to curb illegal wildlife trade, which includes Philippine pangolin, the PCSDS since 2010 has established its Enforcement Team and Wildlife Traffic Monitoring Units (WTMUs) pursuant to its mandate to enforce the R.A. 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act in the province.

For the last five years, PCSDS Enforcement Team and WTMUs, in coordination with other law enforcement agencies were able to conduct 17 seizures of pangolin specimens across the province. The biggest of which was the discovery, by the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park ( TRNP) composite team, of thousands of frozen/dead pangolin individuals hidden inside the Chinese fishing vessel that ran aground on April 8, 2013 on Tubbataha.

Pangolin, while unknown to many, is seen to be the world’s “most illegally traded mammal” because of its meat, skin and scales, which face high demand on the international black market. In China and Vietnam, it may be served as delicacy in luxury restaurants or sold as traditional medicine, although pharmacologically unproven to have medicinal properties.

Since July 2014, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species has considered all of the eight pangolin species spread across Asia and Africa as “threatened with extinction.” From “Near Threatened” status, the IUCN also reclassified the Philippine pangolin to “Endangered.”

In 2000, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) listed Palawan pangolin in Appendix II with the annotation of “zero export quota” or total ban on trade.

CITES is an international agreement to the protection, conservation and sustainable use of earth’s natural resources, including pangolin. In the province, PCSD is the recognized CITES Management Authority.

Last year, the PCSD in Resolution No. 15-521 classified the Palawan pangolin as critically endangered species.

To raise awareness of the plight of this fast-dwindling species, information, education and communication (IEC) campaigns have been spearheaded on the identified hotspot areas, particularly in the northern towns of Roxas and Taytay which were observed to be the primary sources of pangolin in the lucrative illegal wildlife trade.

The PCSDS  has also maintained linkage with the IUCN Special Species Survival Commission Pangolin Specialist Group (IUCN SSC PSG), a group “comprised of a quorum of experts from around the world that leads efforts to study pangolins and the threats they face and devises conservation solutions to ensure the long-term survival of pangolins in both Africa and Asia.”

This affords the PCSDS to localize the formulated strategies for the protection and conservation of the fast-dwindling population of scaly anteaters, said zoologist Levita A. Lagrada, head of the Permitting Unit under the PCSDS ECAN Regulation and Enforcement Division.

Lagrada and Dr. Sabinne Schoppe are the only members of IUCN SSC PSG coming from the Philippines.  Schoppe is the Program Director of Philippine Freshwater Turtle Conservation Program.

Lagrada, added that the PCSDS has an ongoing research on the identification of population strongholds of Philippine pangolin in the province.

In the past years, Lagrada had also conducted studies about Philippine pangolin, particularly on their population density, distribution and habitat preferences. This nocturnal, shy creature is widely distributed in the province, and is more abundant in the northern and central parts of Palawan, while much rarer in the south, she noted.

However, despite its protected status, the Philippines, as mentioned earlier, is still standing to lose its endemic pangolin, primarily, due to the continued illegal hunting for bush meat and wildlife trade, which is fueled by the growing demand to feed the insatiable pangolin appetite of China and Vietnam.

Just in November 2015, Palawan environment authorities, acting on tip off, intercepted a tightly-sealed box containing two frozen pangolin meat and scales at the Puerto Princesa International Airport. Per shipping document, the said box bound for Manila was recorded to be containing marine products, but upon undergoing mandatory inspection it appeared to be misdeclared as marine product.

As local hunters continually plucking them out from the wild, Palawan’s very own pangolin has been pushed, inch by inch, on the verge of extinction. “According to local hunters, twenty years ago, they could hunt three to four pangolin individuals a week while this time, [they could catch] only one individual every month but not always as there were months with zero catch,” said Lagrada.

“This information implies a decreasing population of Palawan pangolin in the wild,” she concluded, adding that “the trend of its decreasing population” goes alongside with the degradation of forest lands.

To ensure its survival, Lagrada noted that there is a need for the protection and conservation of the primary forest, which is the preferred habitat of this species, locally known as “Balintong.”

She said these burrowing mammals, acting as pest control that regulates the population of termites and ants, could also be found in the province’s secondary forest, grassland, open country, thick bush, shrubby slopes and subsistence farming areas.

Currently, all range states of pangolin in Asia and Africa have agreed to prepare a proposal to upgrade the classification of all pangolin species under CITES from Appendix I to Appendix II. PCSDS is participating in the preparation of this proposal, which will be presented in the next Conference of Parties (CoP) meeting come September 2016 in Africa.