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Electronic permits seen as solution to illegal wildlife trade

Philippine Forest Turtle. — WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

By Patricia B. Mirasol, Reporter

About a million species are threatened with extinction — nearly 800 of which are in the Philippines. At its Biodiversity Conference this December, the United Nations urged countries to protect species-rich land and sea areas.

“Biodiversity, and by extension humanity, is now in deepening trouble,” said Inger Andersen, UN undersecretary general. “Nature and biodiversity are dying the death of a billion cuts. And humanity is paying the price for betraying its closest friend.”

In an earlier statement, the intergovernmental organization’s world trade arm UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) noted how digitalization can help curb illicit trade in endangered species.

“An electronic permit system linked to a customs management system can help customs officers, importers and exporters ensure the right species are traded in the right quantities,” UNCTAD said.

Emerson Y. Sy, a wildlife trade analyst and editor of a database that tracks reptiles and amphibians in the Philippines, added that digitizing “can minimize fake permits and fraudulent alterations.”

“Preventing online wildlife trafficking is a key measure to address conservation issues. Many wildlife species are openly traded online with minimal or no repercussion to traffickers,” he said in a Nov. 28 e-mail.

The European Union, together with the Philippines and the rest of the 182 countries that are parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), is looking into this electronic permit system and exploring solutions that are both cost-effective and interoperable.

CITES is an international agreement among governments that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species.

Technology can multiply the number of eyes and ears tracking the movement of animals, noted Gregg H. Yan, the founder of the Best Alternatives Campaign, an environmental nonprofit.

Among the most traded Philippine wildlife, according to Mr. Yan, are Philippine forest turtles (Siebenrockiella leytensis), Palawan hill mynahs (Gracula religiosa), tokay Geckos (Gekko gecko), and rare flora including orchids, begonias, and pitcher plants.

“The rarest items are usually the most highly coveted by collectors,” Mr. Yan said in a Nov. e-mail. “The Philippines is what is called a ‘source and destination country’ for the Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT), meaning we both ship out and import — often illegally — live plants and animals as well as wildlife components such as elephant tusks and rhino horn.”

“The country is also an IWT transshipment point that forms part of a global network of wildlife buyers and sellers,” he said.

Most exotic pets don’t make it to their prospective owners, but instead die in transit.

Aside from legislating stiffer penalties against IWT, Mr. Yan advocated collecting sustainable alternatives such as certified farm-bred red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans), African lovebirds (Agapornis spp.), and green iguanas (Iguana iguana) instead of endangered species.

“By shifting to less endangered alternatives, we can grant our native wildlife a reprieve,” Mr. Yan said.

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