Maritime Police foil bid to smuggle Philippine Forest Turtles out of Palawan
Palawan, Philippines, October 2012—Regional Maritime Police have rescued 27 Philippine Forest Turtles stuffed in a bag and abandoned on a pier on Palawan, just two months after another smuggler was jailed for trafficking in this Critically Endangered species.
Acting on a tip off, two officers of the Philippine National Police Regional Maritime Unit 4B searched and recovered an abandoned bag at Liminancong Pier, on northwest Palawan last week.
Upon inspecting the bag, the officers discovered that it contained freshwater turtles and crocodiles. The turtles were packed into the pockets of the bag, while the crocodiles were held in three wire mesh cages, said Police Senior Superintendent Atanacio T. Macalan Jr, Regional Chief of Unit 4B.
Upon arrival at the provincial capital of Puerto Princesa City, the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development consulted Katala Foundation Inc. (KFI) for species identification. KFI identified the turtles as 27 Palawan-endemic Philippine Forest Turtles Siebenrockiella leytensis, four Asian Leaf Turtles Cyclemys dentata, and 13 Estuarine Crocodiles Crocodylus porosus. The wildlife was then turned over to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. They are now in the custody of the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Centre.
Macalan said the officers did not detect anyone near the abandoned bag and no arrests were made. Had the smuggler been caught, Macalan said he would have faced jail time for violating the Republic Act 9147.
“We would certainly have made an example of the smuggler. No one can just catch these rare and beautiful animals and take them out of the country, and expect to get away with it,” he told TRAFFIC.
Macalan said the bag was meant to be loaded onto a vessel bound for Manila and in light of recent attempts to smuggle Philippine Forest Turtles out of the country, he believed it was destined to be illegally exported.
In June, authorities recovered 43 Philippine Forest Turtles from the bag of a Chinese national they intercepted in the arrival hall of Hong Kong International Airport. He was sentenced to six-weeks in jail. It was the second time he had been caught, the first being an attempt to smuggle 20 Philippine Forest Turtles in February. Last month, media reports said the Philippine Consulate in Xiamen would monitor the man’s possible re-application for a visa and prevent his re-entry into the Philippines.
“The Philippines is home to an amazing array of species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world – such as the Critically Endangered Philippine Forest Turtle” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, Deputy Director of TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.
“The police are to be commended for seizing these turtles and passing them on to the wildlife authorities. It is obvious that international demand for this species persists, so increased vigilance and enforcement, especially at ports and airports, is essential to safeguard these national treasures.”