Haul of endangered birds seized in Bicol

MANILA, Philippines – Environment officials confirmed that 7 rare birds were seized from a group of Filipinos allegedly en route to the Port of Manila on Tuesday, May 20.

The bird species seized were two Philippine hornbills, one Philippine hawk eagle, 3 raptors and one adult owl, said Department of Environment and Natural Resources Biodiversity Management Bureau chief Theresa Mundita Lim on Thursday, May 22.

The Philippine hornbill, also known as Rufous hornbill, is a critically endangered species under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The Philippine hawk eagle, meanwhile, is a vulnerable species.

The suspects and their illegal bounty were intercepted by the Highway Patrol Group Region 5 at Barangay Tabugon in the town of Santa Elena in Camarines Norte.

They were aboard a bus owned by bus franchise Twin Hearts which was allegedly on its way to Manila port from where the animals would be sent off to different parts of the country and the world.

All 7 birds were alive when they were discovered by cops in boxes inside the bus. The Philippine hornbills and raptors were found to be juvenile or very young birds.

"Unfortunately, they are collecting very young, juvenile birds which actually have a minimal chance to survive in captivity. Of course, the collection will deplete our natural population. Then they will just die in the process because of stressful conditions," Lim told reporters.

Because an official report is yet to be sent to Lim, she could not tell Rappler the number of suspects. But she confirmed that all are Filipino citizens.

The birds are now in the Daet, Camarines Norte, and will soon be turned over to the DENR Region 5 office. 

Demand for rare birds

The incident, if proven to be a case of poaching, shows that despite awareness campaigns and laws against illegal wildlife trade, there is still a demand for endangered wild animals.

Birds like those captured usually command high prices as exotic pets. It's crucial for the DENR-BMB to find out where the demand is coming from and who the sellers and traders are, said Lim.

"We need to focus on the individuals who are hard-headed. They know it's illegal but they still do it. It means we have to strengthen our enforcement and we probably have to look at the policy itself. We have to look at the penalties and how we can strengthen the prosecution," she added.

Only two weeks ago, Chinese fishermen were caught off Palawan with around 500 endangered sea turtles, locally called pawikan, in their boat. The Philippine government has filed a case against the alleged poachers for violating local and international wildlife conservation laws.

The birds seizure happened two days before the International Day for Biological Diversity celebrated every May 22.

The Philippines is considered one of 17 megadiverse countries, or countries with the most number of flora and fauna in the world. The country ranks fourth in the world in having the highest number of endemic birds. 

But it is also one of the "hotspots" for environmental loss. Philippine biodiversity continues to be threatened by habitat loss, pollution, climate change and poaching. – Rappler.com

Philippine hornbill image via Shutterstock

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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