By Marita Moaje

WILD. Softshell turtles seized during an operation in Pasay City on April 16, 2024. Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga called for a stiffer penalty for wildlife violations, including illegal wildlife trade. (Photo courtesy of DENR)

MANILA – Environment Secretary Maria Antonio Yulo-Loyzaga on Friday called on legislators to impose stiffer penalties against those involved in illegal wildlife trade.

In a press release, Loyzaga urged members of Congress to prioritize measures that will strengthen the protection and conservation of the country’s wildlife resources and habitats.

“Sophisticated crimes need a sophisticated, robust, and science-based counter approach. Strengthening RA 9147 is a necessary step to further protect and conserve the country’s wildlife resources and their habitats,” Loyzaga said as she proposed revisiting and amending Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act.

As she called for the amendments of the law, Loyzaga said legislators consider wildlife crime as a transnational offense that would also carry stiffer fines and penalties.

She also recommended the expansion of roles of other national government agencies and local government units while enforcing the wildlife law, and to control and manage invasive alien species.

“The amendment of the wildlife law is also in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Targets 13, 14, and 15 (Climate Action, Life Below Water, and Life on Land) which calls for urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats and halt the loss of biodiversity,” she added.

The DENR cited two recent incidents of illegal wildlife trade that include 101 heads of Chinese Softshell Turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis) and a box of live spiders or tarantulas (Theraphosidae), which were seized during operations in Pasay City last month.

The Chinese Softshell Turtle is listed as Other Wildlife Species based on DENR Administrative Order No. 2019-09 or the Updated National List of Threatened Philippine Fauna and their categories, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES).

The species, which is wholly aquatic but surfaces to maintain body temperature and to lay eggs, is endemic to China.

The confiscated softshell turtles and the tarantulas were turned over to the DENR Biodiversity Management Bureau Wildlife Resource Center for further identification, safekeeping, and custody. (PNA)