Photo courtesy: Wikipedia
It was already bad enough that a Chinese boat crashed into the Tubbataha reef, a protected coral reef off the coast of the Philippines, but what the coast guard found inside increased massively the size of the environmental disaster: 400 boxes containing around 10,000 kg of frozen Pangolin meat, an endangered scaly anteater. All trade in the four Asian species of pangolin has been illegal since 2002 but the appetite of Chinese consumers for its meat, prized as a delicacy, and its scales, believed to benefit breast-feeding mothers, has virtually wiped out the creatures in China, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Pangolin traders, who use dogs or traps to capture the wild animals, have since moved into its last habitats in Java, Sumatra and the Malaysian peninsula, driving populations down but prices up. Poachers are now threatening it pretty much everywhere it still can be found... Too bad we can't seem to catch them unless they're so incompetent that they crash their ships.
Chris Shepherd, an expert at wildlife trade group Traffic and based in Malaysia, told the Guardian: "There is no way a slow-breeding species like the pangolin can withstand this huge pressure for long." He said the enforcement of laws had not kept pace with demand for the pangolin meat and scales, which can fetch hundreds of dollars per kilogramme in China: "We have seen a really obscene amount of seizures but very few people are arrested and even fewer convicted." (from: The Guardian)The 12 Chinese crewmen from the wrecked vessel are being held on charges of poaching and attempted bribery, said Adelina Villena, the marine park's lawyer, and face further charges, including damaging coral reef and possessing pangolin meat. Tubbataha reef is a marine sanctuary and popular diving destination 640km south-west of Manila and had already been damaged by a US navy ship that got stuck in January and had to be dismantled.
The Philippine military quoted the fishermen as saying they accidentally wandered into Philippine waters from Malaysia. The fishermen face up to 12 years' imprisonment and fines of up to $300,000 (£196,000) for the poaching charge alone. For possessing pangolin meat, they can be imprisoned up to six years and fined, Villena said.
As for the Tubbataha coral reef, it is an extremely precious biodiversity hotspot: "Research of scientists visiting the reefs since the 1980s revealed that the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park contains no less than 600 fish species, 360 coral species, 11 shark species, 13 dolphin and whale species, and 100 bird species. The reefs also serve as a nesting ground for Hawksbill and Green sea turtles."