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Philippine Pangolin Meat Seized: Illegal Trade Of Endangered Anteaters Booming

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PANGOLIN MEAT
In this photo provided by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, Philippine environment officials and aviation security group inspect packs of seized Philippine pangolin, or anteater, meat at the Puerto Princesa city airport in Palawan province, western Philippines on Wednesday Jan. 4, 2012. | AP

MANILA, Philippines -- Philippine authorities have seized large shipments of anteater and turtle parts in a sign that the illegal trade in the endangered animals is booming, officials said Wednesday.

Fifty-eight pounds (26.5 kilograms) of Philippine pangolin, or anteater, about to be smuggled to Manila as goat meat was confiscated Wednesday at the Puerto Princesa city airport in southwestern Palawan province, said Alex Marcaida, an environment official.

On Monday, 209 pounds (95 kilograms) of pangolin scales and 200 pounds (90.5 kilograms) of scutes from endangered hawksbill and green turtles were seized at the same airport, he said. That shipment, which had a market value of nearly 1 million pesos ($23,000), was declared as dried fish.

Pangolin is a Chinese delicacy. Its scales are used in Chinese traditional medicine.

Turtle scutes – the plates that cover the shells – are used to decorate guitars and other products.

Marcaida said it's possible traders are increasingly turning their attention to Palawan, home to many exotic wildlife, for pangolin meat because the animal's population has been vanishing in other parts of Southeast Asia due to hunting and deforestation.

The International Union of Conservation of Nature said rising demand for pangolins, mostly from mainland China, and lax laws are wiping out the unique toothless anteaters from their forest habitat in Southeast Asia.

The animals are protected by laws in many Asian nations, and an international ban on their trade has been in effect since 2002. But these measures have had little impact on the illicit trade, the IUCN said.

The IUCN lists the Philippine pangolin, which is endemic to Palawan, as close to becoming a threatened species.

But Marcaida, who is from the government's Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, said the Philippines considers the mammal a threatened species because of the continuing illegal trade.

He said the strict monitoring of trading in live pangolin may have prompted traders to try to smuggle them as meat and scales. A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of pangolin scales sells for 5,000 pesos ($114).

The same traders may be behind the two shipments, Marcaida said, adding that no arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing.

The shipper of Wednesday's haul left the cargo with an airport porter, while Monday's shipment, which was bound for central Cebu city, went through a courier company, he said.

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