Archive for April 28th, 2012

31 rare turtles smuggled out of PH returned by Hong Kong

They could have ended up as delicacies in
some restaurant in Hong Kong, or as
someone else’s pets. But they also
represented longevity and good luck. And
that held true for most of the 36 rare
turtles which were captured and smuggled
out of the Philippines two months ago.
On Friday, 31 of the turtles made it back to
Director Mundita Lim of the Protected
Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) said the
repatriated turtles—captured in Palawan in
February—seemed to be “in good
condition” and that they would be sent
back to their natural habitat in the
Lim said the 18 pond turtles and 13 box
turtles would be quarantined for a month
and checked by veterinarians for any signs
of stress before they are returned to the
Only about 120 pond turtles are estimated
to remain in the wild.
‘Critically endangered’
But some bad news: Two juvenile pond
turtles and three box turtles, which were
among the 36 captured in Palawan, had
died while in captivity.
Pond turtles (Siebenrockiella leytensis) are
freshwater turtles endemic to the
Philippines. Box turtles, or Cuora
amboinensis, are found all over Asia. They
make their homes on land and in
freshwater bodies. They usually grow to 22
centimeters in length.The pond turtles are
listed by the International Union for the
Conservation of Nature as “critically
endangered,” the highest risk category
assigned by the global environment
organization for threatened species. The
box turtles in the Philippines are classified
as “vulnerable” or likely to be endangered.
Hot spot
Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the
repatriation by Hong Kong authorities of
the smuggled turtles “would go a long way
in strengthening the campaign against
illegal wildlife trade within the region.”
“It was obvious that extra effort was taken
by the Hong Kong airport and wildlife
officers to have these turtles properly
handled and processed pursuant to the
provisions of Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna
and Flora,” Lim said.
The Philippines is one of the “hot spots” for
the illegal wildlife trade, with poachers and
illegal fishermen harvesting corals, turtles,
sharks and other marine wildlife in areas
such as West Philippine (South China) Sea
and the Sulu Sea.
Unprecedented step
Records gathered by the PAWB showed that
the turtles were part of the cargo on board
a Cebu Pacific Airlines flight which left for
Hong Kong on Feb. 8. Hong Kong customs
officers discovered the marine reptiles
hidden in a suitcase. A suspect who failed
to produce necessary import documents
was arrested.
Lim cited the support of the Palawan local
government and the Katala Foundation Inc.,
a Palawan-based nongovernment
organization, for the Department of
Environment and Natural Resources efforts
to protect Philippine wildlife species,
particularly threatened endemic wildlife in
Lim said the pond turtles were confiscated
at the Hong Kong airport from a Chinese
student, along with 13 box turtles.
They are prized as novelty pets or food, Lim
said. Some also consider them as medicine.
Philippine officials took the unprecedented
step of traveling to Hong Kong and
retrieving the turtles because they are rare.
Their return followed two months of liaison
between Hong Kong and Filipino officials.