Lives for sale: Value of animal trade at the expense of PH wildlife

Written by Renz Miciel M. Trovela
Illustration by Anika Eliese Borja
Published 2021 May 21

One could not simply resist the prestige from small figurines carved from ivory as precious decorations in one’s living room, or the genuine leather bag made of crocodile skin that a friend sent on one’s birthday. Truly, they draw people’s attention for the displays of social status. Little did they know, at the back of the incomparable beauty of these items is a life gruesomely and forcibly taken, and generations on the edge of extinction due to illegal animal trade.


Aside from the ivory figurines and crocodile leather bags, there are other animals and animal parts that are both legally and illegally sold or consumed all over the globe. [1][2] They may be used for food like the shark fin, traditional medicinal content such as the pangolin scale, and most commonly as exotic pets like the squirrel monkey. [2][3] In fact, reports show that the estimated value of wildlife trade was USD 7 to 24 billion in the year 2016; the US State Department claims it as the third-largest type of illegal trade, after weapons and drugs. [1][2]


Surprisingly, the Philippines has been participating in the animal trade even before the Spanish colonization period. Since then, the country has been exporting a wide variety of aerial, terrestrial, and marine animals as well as their parts to foreign countries. [4] At present, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB) states that the Philippines remains as “a consumer, source, and transit point for illegal wildlife trade,” wherein its market value, ecological value, poaching damages, and tourism revenue loss amount to approximately Php 50 billion per year. [5] However, it is important to note that this value is a rough estimate only, since data regarding animal trade is drawn from confiscation and seizures of items, and some trades may be done outside the coverage of open markets to avoid surveillance. [4] 


In light of the country’s continued animal trade activities, Ateneo de Manila University Biology Department Professors Dr. Ronald Allan Cruz and Dr. Catherine Genevieve Lagunzad studied the trends in published records about legal and illegal animal trades, particularly the “animal taxa, specific animal derivatives, volume of trade, and trade destination” of exports from the Philippines. 


Based on this research, Cruz and Lagunzad discovered that, out of 20,728 total trades in the country within 1975 to 2018, 69.94% of these activities involve export of animals and animal derivatives. Among these animals, birds appear to be the most traded, making up 34.04% of the country’s legal animal exports; more than half of these birds belongs to the family Psittacidae, or commonly known as the true parrots, that were mostly bred in captivity. Among the exports, moreover, animals confiscated (9.17%) and directly taken from the wild (21.82%) primarily consists of anthozoans or true corals, reptiles, and bivalves. [4] 


These records are recovered from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty that subjects international trade of certain species to a degree of regulation and control necessary for its population. [6] 


Although there are existing laws to protect biodiversity from illegal wildlife trade, unfortunately, not all violators of these regulations are identified after confiscations of illegally-traded wildlife. In fact, the number of violation cases filed in court is low while the cases resolved are even lower. Other issues in law enforcement were also specified; lack of operation resources, lack of seriousness in dealing with illegal wildlife trade, and corruption in the enforcement network are a few of these factors present not only locally, but also globally. [4]


Ineffective implementation of these laws put generations of these animals at risk of endangerment, or extinction at worst, if such activities persist since it catalyzes the decrease of the animals’ populations. For instance, Manis culionensis or the Philippine Pangolin are traded in high demand due to their meat as a luxury delicacy and their scales for traditional medicine primarily in Metro Manila. According to DENR-BMB, more than half of this species’ population were diminished in the course of 21 years. The Philippine Pangolin is now considered critically endangered, thus any form of hunting or trade is, supposedly, prohibited. Another is the Cacatua haematuropygia or more commonly known as the Philippine Cockatoo. This species is facing an extremely rapid decline in population due to habitat loss and the caged bird trade, listing it also as one of the critically endangered species in the country. 


On a larger scale, illegal wildlife trade also threatens biodiversity, economic development of the country, and even public health. [4][5] The pandemic, for instance, is highly likely to be a result of human’s consumption of wild animals, increasing chances of transmitting diseases from wildlife to humans; recent studies actually suggest that bats could be probable sources of the SARS-CoV-2 and that pangolins are potential hosts for new coronaviruses. [7]


In order to combat these threats, Cruz and Lagunzad recommended the groups and agencies, namely DENR-BMB and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), to sustain and fortify their operations further. They also encourage the collaboration of agencies associated with the country’s airports and seaports to closely work with the aforementioned groups in strict monitoring and surveillance. Digital innovations through the help of the Department of Information and Communications Technology will also be beneficial for this objective. 

Most importantly, the potential of a collective effort as responsible citizens is not to be underestimated. Refusing to consume or patronize products from illegal wildlife trade and resorting to wildlife-friendly alternatives is a simple yet powerful step towards reducing demands for vulnerable species and protecting the world’s flora and fauna. Reporting illegal activities to authorities and contributing to raise awareness on the impacts of this issue are also helpful gestures. [8] Let it be part of the new normal lifestyle; living not the prestige of rare and animal products, but the fulfillment of eagerly protecting animal life.


Watch this YouTube video for an explanation of the paper by the author, Ronald Cruz, PhD.


  1. TRAFFIC. Illegal Wildlife Trade [Internet]. Cambridge (UK): TRAFFIC International; c2021 [cited 2021 May 18]. Available from:   
  2. Hou C-Y. Wildlife Trade 101 [Internet]. New York: Natural Resources Defense Council;  2019 Aug 15 [cited 2021 May 18]. Available form: ttps:// 
  3. US Fish & Wildlife Service. Illegal Wildlife Trade [Internet]. Falls Church (VA): USFWS; [date unknown; cited 2021 May 18]. Available from:  
  4. Cruz RA, Lagunzad CG. The big picture: Consolidating national government and CITES records of animal trade in the Philippines from 1975 to 2019. PSL [Internet]. 2021 Apr [cited 2021 May 18];14(1):79-100. Available from:   
  5. Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Biodiversity Management Bureau. Addressing illegal wildlife trade in the Philippines [Internet]. Diliman (QC): DENR-BMB; 2019 Aug 14 [cited 2021 May 18]. Available from:  
  6. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. How CITES works [Internet]. Geneva (CH): CITES; [date unknown] [cited 2021May18]. Available from:  
  7. Lam TT-Y, Jia N, Zhang Y-W, Shum MH-H, Jiang J-F, Zhu H-C, et al. Identifying SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses in Malayan pangolins. Nature [Internet]. 2020 Mar [cited 2021 May 19];583(7815):282–5. Available from: DOI:   
  8. World Wide Fund for Nature. Say NO to illegal wildlife products [Internet]. Gland (CH): WWF; [date unknown] [cited 2021 May 18]. Available from: involved/say no to illegal wildlife products/

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