IT TOOK them a while to return to the Philippines, but the 18 rare turtles taken by a Chinese student from the wilds of Palawan several months ago are back and under protective custody, a wildlife conservation group said Friday.
Environment officials fetched the turtles from Hong Kong following the repatriation proceedings there, said Juan Miguel Zubiri, President of the Katala Foundation.
“They’re back, but I’m dismayed that our authorities were not able to prevent these animals from leaving the country,” Zubiri told reporters.
The 18 forest turtles, which are found only in Palawan, are considered to be nearly extinct. The Chinese consider them novelty pets or exotic food.
The turtles were among the various animals taken from the Philippines and intercepted in Hong Kong’s airport on Feb. 8. The illegal shipment included 24 lizards, 16 pythons, a flying snake, two mangrove snakes and a common mock viper.
Zubiri, a former senator, said he will seek an investigation into how the turtles were able to leave the country.
“Our airports and seaports are the last line of defense in our fight against illegal wildlife trade. I call on the authorities to investigate,” he said.
Officials said the turtles will be nurtured and then released to the wilds in Palawan.
(Published in the Manila Standard Today newspaper on /2012/April/28)