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An information technology specialist, who is scheduled to leave for Canada next month, has been arrested for illegal possession and sale of live tarantulas and pythons worth at least P106,000 in Marikina City.

Rommel dela Cruz, 38, was apprehended last October 9 following a raid at his residence in Barangay Tumana by operatives of the Philippine Operations Group on Ivory and Illegal Wildlife Trade or Task Force POGI under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Task Force POGI is a composite team of wildlife law enforcers from various agencies, including the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) and the National Bureau of Investigation-Environmental Crime Division (NBI-ECD).

Dela Cruz was arrested after receiving the marked money from NBI-ECD agents who posed as buyers of a pair of tarantulas he was selling.

After searching the residence, the task force found in Dela Cruz’s possession 11 more tarantulas of different breeds—Brazilian Whiteknee (Acanthoscurria geniculata), Mexican Golden Redrump (Brachypelma albiceps), Mexican Pink (Brachypelma Klaasi), Mexican Redleg (Brachypelma emilia), Chilean Rose (Grammostola rosea) and Bolivian Redrump (Acanthoscurria chacoana).

According to BMB senior ecosystems management specialist Rogelio Demellentes Jr., Dela Cruz was already set to leave for Canada to start a job with a monthly salary of P170,000, a far cry from P35,000 he was getting from his present work at a local publishing firm.

“He was selling off all the tarantulas at a discounted price of P20,000 so he could buy his plane ticket,” Demellentes said, adding that each tarantula could sell at P1,500 in the black market.

The task force also recovered from Dela Cruz five ball pythons (Python reguis), which he was selling at a wholesale price of P86,000.

Ball python, also known as the royal python, is named for its habit of curling itself up into a tight ball. It is listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or simply CITES, in an effort to regulate trade in the species to protect them from becoming threatened or extinct.

NBI-ECD chief Czar Eric Nuqui said Dela Cruz was unable to present any permit or document proving that he was authorized to possess and trade wildlife species.

He said Dela Cruz could be held liable for violating Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act, which defines and penalizes illegal possession and trading of wildlife species.

Under the law, violators could face a jail term of up to 12 years and a fine of not more than P1 million.

Meanwhile, NBI-ECD senior agent Abner Tecson revealed that the smuggling of tarantulas happens when these highly-regulated species are shipped from other countries through courier delivery service as spiderlings, which are then fed “until they are matured enough to be sold in the black market.”

“Detection and apprehension of people engaged in this illicit trade is really challenging and the arrests are done when perpetrators are already active in the black market,” Tecson said.

At the same time, Tecson warned that the illegal trade of exotic tarantulas poses a threat to local species through cross-breeding and if left unchecked, they can upset the balance in the country’s wildlife species in the spider population. ###