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Archive for the ‘Illegal Wildlife Trade’ Category

“It’s one of the most important news stories of our time, and it’s breaking right now.”

Go around the world with CNN as CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Animal Planet host and wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin take viewers to four continents and 13 countries, investigating stories of environmental change and witnessing first hand the various ways in which the planet is under attack.

“The environment is more than just a niche news story; it is an issue that affects every living being and warrants greater attention in the press,” Cooper said. “Our goal was to report not only on individual issues but to examine the interconnectivity of environmental changes. Instead of simply delving into academic theories, we set out to document the actual changes taking place that affect the way we live our lives and the choices we make.”

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From the wildlife markets of downtown Bangkok to the depths of the Madagascar jungle to the melting ice sheets of Greenland, Planet in Peril weaves the different stories together and brings unforgettable images of a world that is changing in alarming ways right before our very eyes. These are stories that are worth telling, because in spite of everything, there is still hope, and there are still things that we can do.

The two two-hour programs of Planet in Peril will air in Manila on October 24 and 25 at 9pm.

See videos, take a visual tour, and get other information here.

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My family-run, home-based travel agency’s name is TROJANA World Travel. I love butterflies, so I named the agency after the magnificent birdwing butterfly, the Trogonoptera trojana, found only in Palawan and nowhere else in the world.

After ten years of existence, I have noticed that my agency’s name still has a poor recall among my regular passengers, consolidators, and airline staff. Likewise, in Palawan, when you mention the name Trojana, it does not ring a bell at all even to the locals despite this butterfly being in the midst of their existence for hundreds of years. Only a handful of people, like those who live in the forest areas, know the Trojana very well—although when I ask them if they have heard of the birdwing, they would give me a cautious look and choose to remain mum. But if you nudge them a little more, start being comical, or sound curious but seemingly uninterested, or maybe take their photos for a souvenir shot, they will soon finally start to share and show some specimens of their favorite butterfly catch. Catching Trojana butterflies is a source of livelihood for these mountain folks. They have been trained by butterfly traders on how to easily catch them in the wild, and how to preserve the fragile specimens with chemicals and neatly wrap them in wax paper ready for turnover. They have also been taught to keep silent about their trade.

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Several newspapers yesterday featured photos of exotic birds intercepted by authorities in Davao City. The Philippine Daily Inquirer showed photos of a cageful of sulfur crested cockatoos and one black palm cockatoo, while Manila Standard Today and The Daily Tribune featured photos of rainbow lorikeets (scanned photo from Manila Standard below, please correct me if I’m wrong on the bird ID). There was no full story accompanying the photos, but the captions said that the birds are scheduled to be put to sleep as a precautionary measure against bird flu. The country remains to be one of the bird flu-free countries in Asia, the papers add.

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image scanned from Manila Standard Today, Front Page, July 10, 2007

It’s a good thing, of course, that the country remains free of bird flu, and that the authorities are apparently implementing measures to keep it that way, including being on the watch for smuggled birds. It’s a relief all around, and plus points for the diligent authorities.

However, since this is a biodiversity blog, let’s try to see if from the birds’ point of view, shall we? The birds, who were just minding their own business, were captured from the forest and smuggled into another country, only to be killed because they might be carriers of a deadly disease (They were obviously captured from the wild and not bred in captivity, because if they were they would have come with the proper papers and bred in the proper conditions, thereby eliminating the fear that they were contaminated with the bird flu virus). Now whoever smuggled them in surely lost money and would have to recoup by bringing in more birds the next time, maybe when the bird flu alert has gone down and the wildlife monitoring has relaxed. Into the forest the trappers will go once again, capturing birds, depleting precious populations, putting together a shipment which may or may not end up being scheduled for termination.

On the other hand, if not for the bird flu scare, those birds would probably have slipped through the authorities and ended up for sale in Cartimar or by a roadside somewhere. “Animal lovers” would coo at them and buy them, take them home and keep them in cages their entire lives. The birds would have escaped getting killed, but would have spent life in captivity.

Something is wrong with this picture.

 

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Admittedly, being an environmentalist can make a killjoy out of you. In the same way that I can’t understand my vegetarian friends and sometimes make fun of them (“But cows are vegetarian, you should be able to eat them, right?”), my friends sometimes can’t really relate to how I refused to eat at McDonald’s for months because I heard that they refused to minimize their styrofoam use (courtesy of that email circulated by Gary Granada), or how I’d rather plan a nature trip to Batanes or Bohol than go on a shopping trip to Bangkok. Just the other day my sister, an Air Force pilot who’s currently stationed in Palawan, sent me an SMS telling me that my mother – my mother – has been repeatedly asking her to bring back a myna from Palawan. Bring back as in smuggle, you see. Smuggle back a threatened species that’s been captured from the forests and keep it caged in our backyard, in hopes that it would speak. Sheesh. “Ang kulit. Kausapin mo nga” (She’s so persistent. You talk to her), my sister told me. So now the next time I go home to Bulacan I have to sit my mother down and explain to her just how the practice of capturing birds from the wild to serve as pets is ecologically destructive, inhumane, illegal, and totally not amusing, especially to her environmentalist daughter.

Another instance of environmental killjoy happened to me last month, during a trip to Siquijor with similarly environmental-leaning friends. Driving around the island, the roadside was lined in some places by trees, clusters of healthy-looking trees that admittedly looked quite pretty. I pointed them out to my companions, except that one of them was not impressed.

“Mahogany naman,” she huffed.

“Oh. Really?” I said, crestfallen, looking back at the lovely trees.

Now why would my friend, a staunch conservation worker, not be pleased to see trees?

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Because she knew what kind of trees they were. Mahogany is a tree species that is not indigenous to the country, which makes it ecologically unsuitable to be planted in these soils. However, it is a fast-growing and commercially viable species, which would explain why it’s a popular choice in tree-planting or reforestation activities. In the late 80s and 90s, thousands of hectares of denuded forests were planted with mahogany and other exotic fast-growing species, such as gmelina and eucalyptus. There are formerly-denuded areas that are now sporting greenery courtesy of these tree-planting efforts, but a closer look would reveal that these are basically just tree farms, not forests. They offer wood, but not ecological services.

 

“Since exotic species are planted beyond their native range, they often lack the fruits, flowers, or insects required by local wildlife. With the inhibited growth of native plants, many native/endemic animals are displaced.

Fast growing exotic species are also poor substitutes to our native/indigenous species whose timbers are highly valued. The establishment of monocultures of fast-growing species does little to discourage harvesting timber from the old-growth forests.”
– Ruth Condeno, How to bring back Philippine Forests

It makes perfect sense, actually. If you really want to restore our denuded forests, you have to bring back the trees that were there in the first place, not introduce an entirely different type that might mess around with the ecological balance you were trying to restore. There have been studies and campaigns pointing out the counter-productive effects of planting exotic trees in our denuded forests, but sadly, even today a lot of well-meaning tree-planting efforts still use species like mahogany or gmelina, ignoring native varieties such as lauan, yakal, guijo and apitong.

It can be a lonely, frustrating journey, this being an environmentalist thing. But we’re not out to be killjoys, really. It’s really just about taking a closer look at things, being able to look beyond the short-term and adopt a more long-term, sustainable viewpoint. Do me a favor: the next time somebody tells you of a tree-planting campaign, don’t just nod politely and say “That’s nice.” Be a challenger and ask what trees they’re planting.

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