CURRENT BIODIVERSITY CONCERNS
Elpidio V. Peria
20 April 2013
So, it turns out that the Chinese fishing vessel that run aground Tubbataha Reef in Palawan some weeks back may not only be doing any fishing or surveillance of left-over USS Guardian equipment, as some reports would say, but according to a recent update of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, these Chinese fishermen were also caught with some four hundred (400) boxes containing up to 4 to 6 species each of pangolin, a mammal, commonly known as the ant-eater.
National and provincial government officials are still trying to determine if these were all locally-sourced species, meaning they were all Philippine species or they also came from other parts of Southeast Asia, mainly Indonesia and Malaysia.
A Scientific American blogger, John Plaitt, reports that the potential environmental impact of removing these creatures from the wild is huge, since each pangolin can eat tens of thousands of insects per year, and according to Simon Stuart, Chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission, “pangolins save us millions of dollars a year in pest destruction” being natural controllers of termites and ants.
These species are easily caught in the wild, since, “they are shy and curl up in a ball when they are in danger, which makes it easy for humans to pick them up”, according to Philippine Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) Director Theresa Mundita Lim as quoted in the earlier-mentioned Philippine Daily Inquirer report.
An ordinary observer will wonder how come a fishing vessel would be caught with these terrestrial specimens, the most likely thing that could have happened was that these Chinese fishermen were buying these species from either organized traders or numerous individuals who could be the ones who caught them in the wild.
Many years back, I was able to observe how a renowned Filipino marine scientist would gather research specimens, by just asking local fishermen to collect the same and buying it from them, easier that risking one’s limb out in the open sea, and more efficient.
This could be the scenario here in the case of the Pangolins in Palawan, which is similar to how black corals, some 20 container vans of them accosted in a local port in Mindanao in 2011, were gathered in bulk and shipped out of the country.
Pangolins have many medicinal uses, the IUCN Red List shows it is hunted for its skin/scales which is used to treat asthma and for its meat, and is included in the Chinese medicine trade by the Tagbanuas and other ethnic groups in Palawan.