It happened last Monday, April 8.
First, a Chinese steel-hulled boat ran into a highly endangered coral reef in the southwestern Philippines. The accident happened at the Tubbataha National Marine Park, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site on Palawan island.
But the environmental destruction gets worse.
Inside the vessel the coast guard investigators found more than 22,000 pounds of meat from the pangolin, or scaly anteater, which is a protected species. The Chinese pangolin is highly prized for its meat, and is also hunted for its skin and scales, which attract high prices both in China and in international markets.
As Care2′s Kristina Chew reported here, in most countries pangolins caught in the wild cannot be exported for commercial trade. So what were they doing on the F/N Min Long Yu?
It’s difficult to patrol the forests where pangolins live, so hunters can get away with trapping them and not being caught. In fact, pangolins are so threatened that their numbers have decreased significantly over the past 15 years and are expected to continue to do so by another 50 percent.
For that reason, the Chinese pangolin is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but of course that doesn’t stop people stealing them. The animals are protected in many Asian nations, and an international ban on their trade has been in effect since 2002, but illicit trade continues. The meat and scales of the pangolin fetch hundreds of dollars per kilogram in China, where many believe they cure various ailments.
From The Associated Press:
The World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines said the Chinese vessel F/N Min Long Yu could have been carrying up to 2,000 of the toothless, insect-eating animals rolled up in the boxes, with their scales already removed.
“It is bad enough that the Chinese have illegally entered our seas, navigated without boat papers and crashed recklessly into a national marine park and World Heritage Site,” said WWF-Philippines chief executive officer Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan. “It is simply deplorable that they appear to be posing as fishermen to trade in illegal wildlife.”
The boat’s 12 Chinese crewmen are being detained on charges of poaching and attempted bribery, said Adelina Villena, the marine park’s lawyer. She said more charges are being prepared against them, including damaging the corals and violating the country’s wildlife law for being found in possession of the pangolin meat.
According to the Philippine military, the fishermen said they accidentally wandered into Philippine waters from Malaysia. They are being detained in southwest Puerto Princesa city, where Chinese consular officials visited them, and they face up to 12 years’ imprisonment and fines of up to $300,000 for the poaching charge alone.
For possession of the pangolin meat, they can be imprisoned up to six years and fined.
Care2 has reported extensively on the global illegal trade in wildlife, which is estimated to yield at least $19 billion per year.
Illegal wildlife trade is also often unsustainable and pushes endangered species toward extinction. The story of the world’s rhinoceros species, which are facing increased poaching as demand for their horns increases in Asia, is truly tragic.
And now we hear of this double environmental disaster, once again driven by the all-powerful need to make money at all costs.
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Photo Credit: string_bass_dave