Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu has commended the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for the rescue of over 300 smuggled live animals and the arrest of four suspects in what has been dubbed as one of the country’s largest wildlife busts.

The successful operation was carried out recently by joint operatives from the NBI-Environmental Crime Division and the DENR’s Philippine Operations Group of Ivory and Illegal Wildlife Trade, also known as Task Force POGI.

“We feel proud that we have an accomplishment to share to the Filipino people,” Cimatu said after personally witnessing the turnover of the seized animals to the Wildlife Resources Center of the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau in Quezon City.

“We are not talking about mining, we are not talking about pollution, but we are talking about conservation. This is really our main purpose in the DENR,” the environment chief added.

Cimatu already ordered the filing of criminal charges against the suspects identified as Abraham Fulla Bernales, Juner Bawenti, Nestor Torion and Jose Bandingan for violating provisions of Republic Act No. 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act.

“This serves both as an accomplishment and warning to those who are thinking of doing such [illegal] actions as far as these wild animals are concerned,” he said.

Among the animals rescued from the suspects are 110 squirrel-like sugar gliders, 7 red birds of paradise and 26 Moluccan cockatoos, which wildlife monitor International Union for Conservation of Nature considers to be at high risk of extinction in the wild.

The wildlife species could be native to Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. According to DENR Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) Director Theresa Mundita Lim, the DENR will “provide the best available animal care” for the rescued wildlife species.

“The animals will also be screened for two months to make sure they are free from any disease,” said Lim, a licensed veterinarian. In the meantime, the BMB will have to determine the actual origin of the animals.

“If it is still possible to repatriate them, we will so that they could go back to their natural habitat. But if it is no longer possible, we will see if we can take care of them in the long term and use them for educational purposes,” Lim said.

Lim said there are environmental conservation partners and animal welfare groups from the non-government organization who are willing to help the DENR in taking care of the species using their own resources.

She noted that all the animals that were collected are tropical animals, so they are able to survive in the country’s weather conditions.

“We can communicate with the country where they originated, so that they could be returned to their natural habitat. We cannot release them here in the Philippines since these species are not endemic here,” Lim pointed out.


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