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Combating illegal wildlife trade in the Philippines

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When most people think about the illegal wildlife trade, the first images that come to mind typically revolve around the poaching of a big game animal like the rhinoceros, elephant, or tiger. However, the illegal wildlife trade’s tendrils are far-reaching across the globe, and the problem is particularly prominent right here in Southeast Asia.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that a quarter of the global demand for illegal wildlife products comes from the Southeast Asian region alone, making it a hotbed for illegal wildlife trade activities. While this may not be as highly-publicized or widely-known compared to more high-profile cases, such as poachers killing elephants for the ivory trade, individuals who are concerned about biodiversity should still feel outraged at the extent to which the IWT continues to devastate ecosystems in the region.

In the Philippines alone, many of the country’s unique indigenous species are often targeted for exploitation, capture, and exportation. The Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has even estimated the value of the illegal wildlife trade within the country to be around PH₱50 billion (roughly equivalent to US$1 billion) per year. This includes the wildlife’s market value, habitat damage, loss of potential ecotourism, and other ecological consequences for the country.

The Asian Development Bank has also recognized the Philippines’ complicated position as a demand source, origin of supply, and transit point for illegal wildlife and wildlife parts, and highlighted the need for more to be done to curb and ultimately eradicate the illegal wildlife trade.

As the world grows increasingly aware of the extent of the illegal wildlife trade in the Philippines, more attention is being paid not only to the individuals doing the poaching and buying, but also to the middlemen and supply chain personnel who enable these exchanges to take place. Logistics personnel, aircraft workers, and government officials now face heightened scrutiny for their role in the illegal wildlife trade, especially as many smugglers often use legal means of transportation to move their goods.

With these concerns in mind, how can logistics movers such as DHL Express help stop and prevent the illegal wildlife trade in the Philippines?

The state of the illegal wildlife trade in the Philippines

It’s first important to understand how big the current situation of the illegal wildlife trade within the Philippines is. 

Of the 52,117 species in the country, 418 were listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List by the year 2000, indicating their status as at-risk of extinction. Notable species affected by the illegal wildlife trade that are also endemic or indigenous to the Philippines include:

  • Philippine forest turtles
  • Asian leaf turtles
  • Palawan pangolin
  • Blue-naped parrots
  • Philippine slow lorises
  • Philippine cockatoos
  • Mindanao water monitors (also known as Malay monitor lizards)
  • Luzon red-tailed rat snakes (also known as Luzon bronzeback snakes, or Philippine yellow spotted pit vipers)
  • Tarsiers
  • Orchids (Various)

These species are poached, exploited, and traded for a variety of reasons including traditional medicine, food, skins, jewelry, local and international pet trades, and as unique ornaments or collector’s pieces. Several other species including Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Palm Cockatoos, and Black-capped Lories are not native to the Philippines, but are smuggled into or through the country in order to fulfill the local and regional caged and exotic bird trade. 

Man-made impacts on natural habitats further threaten these species’ long-term survival and existence, and it’s possible that several of these species might go extinct soon if the illegal wildlife trade continues on its present trajectory. Drastic changes to the natural environment as a result of the illegal wildlife trade can also have negative effects, such as disrupting natural systems of pollination and pest control, introducing invasive species into a new environment, and of course, accelerating the loss of the Philippines’ natural biodiversity.

In response to the ever-pervasive threat of the illegal wildlife trade, the Philippine government has implemented the Wildlife Law Enforcement Action Plan (WildLEAP) 2018-2028. WildLEAP is a comprehensive national roadmap on addressing the IWT via the DENR, with its six key areas covering:

  • Policy and System Development
  • Networking and Coordination
  • Capacity Building
  • Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA)
  • Improving Governance, Curbing Corruption
  • Reporting, Monitoring and Evaluation

Though WildLEAP already provides a crucial springboard for addressing and targeting illegal wildlife trade-related issues and activities, the DENR has also gone one step further with its Philippine Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (PBSAP) 2015-2028. 

The PBSAP integrates global Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) objectives within a national framework, with specific strategies laid out for local, federal, and national-level inter- and intra-agency cooperation on issues related to illegal wildlife trade and biodiversity. These objectives encompass public education in these areas, promoting sustainable use of natural resources, safeguarding ecosystems and species diversity, and strengthening law enforcement measures against those involved in the IWT.

How logistics interfaces with the illegal wildlife trade

Despite both the WildLEAP and the PBSAP being in place, Philippine government agencies still struggle to enforce laws against wildlife trafficking for various reasons, including the intricate marine borders in the Sulu and Celebes Seas, and poor intergovernmental cooperation with Indonesia and Malaysia regarding regional anti-trafficking activities. Those in the illegal wildlife trade are also embracing modern-day technology such as e-commerce, black market sites, and social media – all of which have made the industry more amorphous and thus also more difficult for governments to detect, enforce, and prosecute perpetrators.

In order to enhance the impact of government-led enforcement, third-party businesses and organizations should also step up and play their part in combating the illegal wildlife trade. Logistics and transportation companies, in particular, have the potential to effect significant change at key illegal wildlife trade transhipment and entry points by disrupting traffickers who are making use of legal transportation methods to move their products and goods.

So what specific measures can logistics companies take to help stop and prevent the illegal wildlife trade?

Measures logistics companies can take against the illegal wildlife trade

First, logistics, shipping, and supply chain personnel need to be educated on the dangers of the illegal wildlife trade, as well as how they can actively play a part in disrupting illegal wildlife trade activities. In partnership with TRAFFIC, DHL has conducted training workshops for staff in Southeast Asia on how to better detect packages containing illegal wildlife, as well as implemented Standard Operating Procedures to maintain the integrity of shipments passing through DHL’s system checkpoints. These measures have paid off in recent years with multiple seizures carried out at DHL warehouses at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), including in 2022 when five shipments of black ants were intercepted at NAIA.

Second, logistics companies must collaborate with other key stakeholders in the industry on key support measures for tackling the illegal wildlife trade. In 2019, DHL Express and 13 other leading courier and logistics companies in China signed a Voluntary Code of Practice to Refuse Delivery of Illegal Wildlife and Products Thereof, reaffirming their commitment to curbing the illegal wildlife trade.

Third, internal policies should be fine tuned to account for concerns relevant to the illegal wildlife trade. This could mean screening candidates’ backgrounds for illegal wildlife trade-related activities, introducing robust whistleblowing policies so employees can safely report their concerns, or tightening profiling of known traffickers and their relations to properly map out and flag risk factors for wildlife trafficking. For example, similar to our policies targeting counterfeit products and goods, DHL’s Prohibited and Restricted Commodities Policy (PRCP) explicitly includes live animals, animal trophies, animal parts, animal remains, or ashes, and animal by-products as not accepted by our services under any circumstances. This provides our employees with the legal capacity to enforce stringent checks on suspicious parcels and packages when necessary.

As a leading logistics and shipping company worldwide, DHL Express recognizes its position and responsibility in helping to combat the illegal wildlife trade in the Philippines. Through both internal measures and external collaborations, we constantly strive to disrupt the illegal wildlife trade in order to promote biodiversity locally and around the world.

Keep up with the latest developments in logistics and shipping from around the world by registering for a DHL Express business account today.

¹ Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). 6 September 2019.

² Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). 4 October 2021.

³ Asian Development Bank. 2019.

⁴ Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB). 11 February 2023.

⁵ Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 25 July 2022.

⁶ The Philippine Clearing House Mechanism. n.d.

⁷ Convention on Biological Diversity. 18 September 2020.

⁸ International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). 27 January 2023.

⁹ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). n.d.

¹⁰ DHL Logistics of Things. 14 March 2017.

¹¹ The Philippine Star. 16 February 2022.

¹² Traffic. 8 May 2019.