Over forty officers from eleven Philippine enforcement agencies underwent joint specialized training in Palawan to identify and dismantle organized crime networks that are targeting the country’s wildlife. Officers also received training in how to care for wild animals that they seize from traffickers.
“Because criminals are working together across borders to make money from trafficking wildlife species, so too must law enforcement agencies band together and intensify their cooperation and collaboration to stop the looting and exploitation of endangered plants and animals,” said Katherine Custodio, Executive Director of WWF-Philippines, which co-hosted the event.
“We go to great lengths to protect and conserve nature and biodiversity, especially because we are part of the Coral Triangle, a globally-recognized center of marine biodiversity. Organized transboundary wildlife trafficking needs to be disrupted and dismantled while rescued animals have to be handled properly so that our conservation efforts do not go to waste,” she added.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) estimated that the total cost of the illegal trade is around P50 billion per year in the Philippines alone. This amount already includes the losses to damaged habitats from poaching and loss in potential ecotourism revenues.
Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, in the Southeast Asian archipelago, have been facing challenges related to the illegal wildlife trade of threatened species such as pangolins, marine turtles, and sharks, among others. Enforcement of laws on wildlife trafficking has been difficult given the wide marine borders in the Sulu and Celebes Seas and the lack of strong cooperation between the countries’ security and intelligence agencies.
A U.S. government-sponsored project called TRIPOD (“Targeting Regional Investigations for Policing Opportunities and Development”) conducted instructional sessions in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, that improved the cooperation between law enforcement agencies. Topics of the training focused on sharing of critical, actionable intelligence, building holistic interagency approaches between police, judicial, anti-corruption, and financial crime agencies, and teaching of analytical tools that help in identifying criminal supply chains. The next step in TRIPOD is to help convene Philippine agencies with their counterparts in Indonesia and Malaysia to share information and agree on ways to target cross-border illicit supply chains that are trafficking marine turtles, pangolins, sharks, and many other species.
Developed by WWF’s partner, Freeland, the “CTOC” (Countering Transnational and Organized Crime) training course was held from January 16 to 20 with 30 participants from law enforcement agencies including DENR, PNP, NBI, PCG, BFAR, Anti-Money Laundering Council, Philippine Ports Authority, and Philippine Center on Transnational Crime. Local NGO Tanggol Kalikasan provided technical support.
The second training session, Care for Confiscated Wildlife (CCW), with partner International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), was held from January 23 to 26 with 29 participants (half staying on from the first session), including enforcement agencies, wildlife rescue agencies, veterinarians, and animal experts.
“Seizures of live animals are particularly challenging for enforcement agencies combatting wildlife crime. Trafficked animals are discovered in poor condition and require urgent attention. Animal handling techniques are essential to ensure the safety of personnel and to safeguard animal welfare” said Lois Lelanchon, Wildlife Rescue Program Manager at IFAW.
As part of this training, WWF, LAMAVE, University of the Philippines and Department of Environment and Natural Resources led a session on ShellBank, a marine turtle trade traceability toolkit. ShellBank brings together multiple organizations, nations, and communities to collectively develop a global repository for marine turtle genetic data to enable trade to be traced back to poached turtle populations. “Extracting DNA from seized items can pinpoint the nesting origin of the turtle killed and enable authorities to crackdown on poaching hotspots” said Chris Madden Hof, WWF’s Global Marine Turtle Conservation Lead.
The TRIPOD project is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), and is implemented by Freeland together with WWF and IFAW. The DENR-Biodiversity Management Bureau-Wildlife Resources Division serves as the primary government partner of the project. An INL statement on the program added: “We are pleased to support this initiative, which was designed in response to the Philippine partner agency’s requests for capacity building that would foster and enhance both the analytical skills of participants, as well as interagency cooperation.”
“With the improved capacity and collaboration of our partner law enforcement agencies, criminal syndicates looking to profit from endangered wildlife species will think twice before they target the rich flora and fauna in the Philippines and neighboring countries,” said Custodio. Steven Galster, Founder of Freeland, agreed and added: “Law enforcement networking and training is a low cost-high impact approach to deterring and dismantling organized wildlife crime.”