Officials in the Philippines say the coronavirus pandemic is fuelling a new problem: a surge in plant poaching.
The country’s lockdown earlier this year, one of the strictest in the world, helped drive demand for greenery among Filipinos who were longing for nature. Though restrictions have eased, the craze for gardening has continued, and officials say sellers are digging up endangered species in the mountains and forests.
Illegal traders were “having a fiesta because the market is bigger and prices are more attractive”, Rogelio Demallete, an ecosystem specialist at the country’s Biodiversity Management Bureau, told Bloomberg.
Carnivorous pitcher plants and bantigue trees, used to cultivate bonsai, had become especially popular, he said.
Officials have vowed to crack down on poachers, promising to step up patrols of forests and warning that people could face hefty fines, and jail sentences of up to 12 years if they collect wild plants that are classified as critically endangered.
The Philippines’ rich and diverse habitats – which make it one of 17 “megadiverse” countries thought to contain at least 70% of the world’s flora and fauna species – face threats ranging from mining and logging to development.
Over recent months, entrepreneurs and workers who lost their incomes during the pandemic have begun selling plants to make ends meet. Demand for house plants is especially high in Manila, one of the world’s most densely populated cities.
The capital and surrounding regions, which were under strict lockdown between mid-March and June, face partial restrictions until the end of September. Such measures limit non-essential movement, while social gatherings are banned.
This month, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that the quarantine measures had fuelled huge increases in plant prices, and cases of theft.
Amor Alcantara, the owner of the garden store Ms Potts and Plants in Rizal, said about 9,000 Philippine pesos’ (£145) worth of dwarf anthuriums had been stolen from her garage. “It’s like having a ‘plantdemic’,” she told the newspaper.
• This article was amended on 14 September 2020. The habitats which are thought to contain at least 70% of the world’s flora and fauna species are those of the world’s 17 “megadiverse” countries, not just those of the Philippines as an earlier version said.