ESPERANZA, Sultan Kudarat (MindaNews / 14 February) — The COVID-19 pandemic has forced farmers in Esperanza town to sell birds to motorists along the national highway to augment their incomes and allow them to buy rice and other basic goods.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), however, warned against selling birds, not only because it is a violation of law but also because birds could be disease carriers.
On Friday, farmers here were seen at the roadside offering moorhen (Gallinulla Chloropus) at 50 pesos each. Also known as swamp chickens or water hens, moorhens are locally known as “kuro.”
Republic Act 9147 or the “Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act” prohibits, among others. “engaging in the exchange, exportation, or importation, purchase or sale of wildlife, their derivatives or by-products, locally or internationally.”
Farmer Nonoy said there are plenty of moorhens in the ricefield every morning so they made an improvised trap to catch them and sell to motorists to augment their earnings.
He said they need extra incomes as prices of goods have risen due to the pandemic. He also said their customers buy the birds because the prices of meat products in the market have also increased.
A teenage boy with him carried the moorhens in bunches, their legs tied by a string, their heads down as he moved closer to the highway to entice motorists to buy.
Most of their buyers, he said, either fry the meat or cook it into adobo.
But bird enthusiasts and wildlife conservation advocates were saddened to see the pitiful state of the birds on social media.
Marlon Ceballos, an environmentalist, lamented: “It’s a violation (of) our existing laws” and said the birds “should be returned into the wild.”
“Nangyayari ito tuwing krisis” (This happens during times of crisis), Aldwin Apostol, a broadcast journalist from Upi, Maguindanao, said. He recalled that during El Nino crisis, so many of these moorhens from the marshlands were also sold.
Martin Pineda, bird enthusiast and bird photographer, said an elderly told him they tried eating the meat but it tastes awful. “I don’t know then why they are being sold,” he said, adding that if the birds are bought as pets, “you will need a fairly large pond.”
Vice-Mayor Joselito Pinol of M’lang in North Cotabato said catching birds in the ricefields is not allowed in the municipality, highlighting a local law that protects wildlife wetland birds.
According to agriculturist Kim Bagundang, the function of these birds in the environment is to control pests in the ricefields. He added that government should intensify and be functional in biodiversity governance.
Dr. Rosalinda Cortez, Chief of the Conservation and Development Division of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Region-12 said that after their team saw a social media post about the bird poaching, they immediately informed their local counterparts to track down and apprehend the sellers.
“ I informed our CENRO in Tacurong City Mr. Larry Curias to respond immediately but the culprits were gone,” she said.
“Our concern here is not only the violation of the law but impact of misbalancing the biodiversity that could result to other illnesses,” she said, adding the farmer-sellers could be exposed to zoonotic diseases.
“We are not certain if these birds (that are sold and eaten) are disease carriers that could infect people,” she said.
She said the debate still continues on the issue of poaching as source of the COVID-19 virus.
The month of February is celebrated as World Wetland Wildlife Conservation celebration according to Cortez.
She hopes their Regional Wildlife Rescue Center at Sultan Kudarat State University in Lutayan town will have its wildlife ambulance to be used to rescue moorhens being peddled along the highway. (Ferdinandh B. Cabrera / MindaNews)