CALOOCAN CITY, Jan. 29 (PIA) --The head of the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) expressed concern over the recent cases of illegal wildlife trafficking seemingly influenced by trends of keeping these threatened species as pets.
The Philippines' Bureau of Customs (BOC) last week reported the seizure of a package containing 20 endangered tarantula spiders and 8 scorpions at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on 6 January 2021.
Records showed the package, which came from Samut Parakarn, Thailand, was misdeclared as "teaching equipment," and imported without the necessary permits.
In 2019, the BoC intercepted 757 tarantulas at a mail exchange centre near Manila's international airport and later arrested a man who tried to claim the tarantulas declared as "collection items." In October last year, 119 tarantulas from Poland concealed in a pair of rubber shoes were also seized.
Lauding the work of the BOC, Lim emphasised the importance of strengthening wildlife law enforcement, particularly at seaports and airports, and fostering regional and transboundary coordination to combat illicit wildlife trade.
"We acknowledge the authorities' vigilance against illegal wildlife trafficking and their close coordination with environmental agencies in the pursuit to conserve and protect threatened wildlife species. The covert nature of the trade makes this a huge challenge for authorities and requires a whole-of-government approach," Lim said.
Tarantulas comprise a group of large and hairy spiders under the family Theraphosidae. Of the 39 species listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List global database, 11 are categorised as either critically endangered or endangered, 5 are vulnerable, and 5 are near-threatened.
Scorpions, on the other hand, can be found in six of the seven continents of the world. A species found in the ASEAN, Isometrus deharvengi, however, is listed as an endangered arachnid in the IUCN Red List.
Lim noted that these arachnids play important roles in ecosystems, helping control insect populations and thus helping prevent the spread of insect-borne diseases.
Also, the venoms of tarantulas and scorpions may have medicinal properties that can be valuable in the development of new drugs. Apart from their contributions to maintaining ecological balance, Lim said these arachnids may provide solutions to modern-day ailments.
"Many hobbyists and collectors, however, are willing to buy these at high prices. This demand contributes to the rampant poaching of these species from the wild, smuggling, and illegal trade. Poaching to the point of extinction may have profound impacts on the environment and eventually on human health," Lim said.
Inadvertent release or escape of exotic animals, especially poisonous ones, into the wild and ecologically sensitive places with high endemism, could result in an ecological imbalance and potentially harm other species in the ecosystems, the ACB head explained.
She warned the public to be compliant with national laws concerning the trade, transportation, and possession of these heavily trafficked animals.
In the Philippines, under the Philippines' Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Protection and Conservation Act, those engaged in illegal importation, collection, and trade of endangered wildlife are meted six years of imprisonment and a fine of P200,000.00 (USD 4,100).
Also, given the transboundary nature of most illegal wildlife trade, Lim cited the need for greater coordination and cooperation among neighbouring countries, in accordance with the commitment of the ASEAN Member States.
In 2019, ASEAN Ministers responsible for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and Wildlife Enforcement during the Special ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Illegal Wildlife Trade in Chiang Mai, Thailand, agreed to scale up their efforts to strengthen cooperation in addressing illegal wildlife trade in the region by collaborating with international organisations, private sector, academia, and civil society.
"With a better understanding of the human-wildlife interface amid the COVID-19 pandemic, our collaboration is highly timely and relevant," Lim said.