An Analysis of Historical Trends and Drivers of Illegal Animal Trafficking in the Philippines Toward a Theory of Change for its Mitigation

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Biology (Standard Program)



First Advisor

Catherine Genevieve B. Lagunzad, PhD


The Philippines is one of 17 megadiversity countries in the world and is among the three most biodiverse countries in Southeast Asia, but it is also widely considered to be a “biodiversity hotspot.” One of the most significant threats to Philippine biodiversity is Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT), which is an organized crime of overexploitation. There is a serious lack of consolidated data on the history of animal trade in the country, trends in illegal and legal animal trade, and perspectives of common players in the trade. A Theory of Change (ToC) can be useful for identifying necessary interventions toward the ultimate outcome of data-driven reduction in illegal animal trade in the Philippines. Historical data on animal trade was collected from primary texts of the Spanish and American colonial periods, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Biodiversity Management Bureau, and Palawan Council for Sustainable Development. Sea turtles, corals, sea cucumbers, and civets have had the longest history of trade, extending to the period before Spanish colonization. Among these, sea cucumbers are not adequately protected by international agreements. Birds and reptiles are the two major taxa that figure most heavily in both the illegal and legal wildlife trade, necessitating reassessments of their populations in the wild and conservation laws, particularly in the context of the illegal-legal interface in wildlife crime. Consistent with literature, the perspectives of local buyers indicate a tension between humanistic and utilitarian views of wildlife, which may explain how self-perceived love of animals translates into a desire for possession. The humanistic and moralistic views may predispose IWT players to being educated on the perils of the v practice. Consolidating data on apprehensions of marine vessels involved in IWT allows the development of predictive models that could aid in curbing illegal maritime activity, including the closely associated Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing. The model generated here suggests that origin country and type of vessel are the most important predictors for the likelihood of a particular vessel performing illegal activities. Bringing all these together, the ToC framework emphasizes the need for the inclusion of wildlife biology and protection laws in formal education, more extensive historical and field studies on animal populations and the trade, consolidation and transparency of data on IWT, and updating laws protecting wildlife from overexploitation. These, along with stricter enforcement of existing wildlife laws, can significantly mitigate illegal animal trading, but these efforts will be successful only with the enabling action of curbing corruption in the networks involved in fighting IWT.

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