Smugglers use Davao as transshipment point for birds

Chio dismissed suspected smuggler Mike Artocilla's claim that he sold only to local household buyers.

Artocilla denied he was dealing with traders in Manila but admitted he was breeding the stock so he could sell more and need not go back to Indonesia.

He also admitted that the bird smuggling business has been established between local traders and suppliers in Indonesia, some of them entering through General Santos or Sarangani.

Officials of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources are preparing to charge Artocilla for violation of Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act.   

Chio said it is likely the stock will be sold to Manila where the price is higher.

Seized from Artocilla were an estimated 270 heads of exotic birds smuggled into the city from Indonesia where their government has reported at least 81 persons dead due to avian flu.  

As a precautionary measure,  the wildlife stock were destroyed using carbon dioxide and burnt using government incinerators a day after they were confiscated in an NBI raid in Lasang district, near the city's border with Davao del Norte.

In a commentary sent to MindaNews on July 11, Stewart Metz, MD, director of the Indonesian Parrot Project,  said authorities may be “justifiably proud of their record to keep the Philippines free of ‘bird flu’” but “serious scientific and ethical questions remain as to whether the mass slaughter of such birds plays any useful role in such preventive measures.”

Metz said that if operatives took months to do surveillance of the areas, “therefore, there was more than adequate time to have proper test kits available in advance. Were these birds tested for HPAI(Highly pathogenic avian influenza) before they were slaughtered?  Perhaps officials of PAWB and Excel Hernandez of the NBI will answer that simple question.”

Metz also said “If one is going to kill these birds, one cannot imagine a more inhumane, brutal and uncivilized way to do it than burning. Were these birds anesthetized before slaughter? If not, this violates the veterinary code of most civilized countries.”

“Many of these birds, such as cockatoos and parrots, are extremely intelligent–they are sentient, they feel pain and are capable of suffering. They merit a fate better than burning .In fact, the very immolation of these birds sets back conservation efforts predicated on changing attitudes about the value of wildlife–since the government treated these birds as poorly  or even worse than smugglers,” he said.

Metz acknowledged that while it is critical to protect the citizens of the Philippines from HPAI, the cause of bio-security is never furthered by hasty decision-making, and mere expediency. “These birds could have been quarantined and tested, and if not infected, perhaps could have been repatriated to Indonesia to a wildlife rehabilitation center,” he said.

Chio told MindaNews yesterday that while authorities zero in on securing seaports and airports, the dreaded bird flu virus could still slip into Mindanao via the backdoor.

He said smuggling between Mindanao and neighboring islands off Indonesia is threatening because of  proximity.

But he said the Regional Avian Influenza Task Force can handle the situation.

Chio heads the task force composed of several agencies which have conducted information and education campaigns in major entry points since three years ago. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)