Iguanas for 'tuko' scam bared

by Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 08 2011 06:28 PM | Updated as of Aug 09 2011 02:28 AM

MANILA, Philippines - A syndicate allegedly sells certain species of iguana for the price of geckos or "tuko," which is now being traded illegally for its perceived medicinal effects.

According to Josefina de Leon of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), a member of the syndicate would pose as a buyer of geckos from a fellow member for P100,000 to lure potential customers.

Once the customer has placed his or her order, the syndicate would deliver iguanas instead of geckos.

"And they will go away with the money," De Leon told the Senate trade and commerce committee, citing reports from the National Bureau of Investigation.

She said, however, that they are still verifying these reports.

During the hearing, De Leon said the DENR has captured 184 geckos since the trade started in 2009.

She explained that under the law, only indigenous people are authorized to capture non-endangered species like the gecko.

"The capture is alarming not only because of the demand but the mortalities occurring form the capture of the animals," she said, adding that the government still has no data on the gecko population in the country.

Only tip of the iceberg

Arvin Diesmos, president of the Wildlife Conservation Society of the Philippines, noted an "upsurge" in the capture of sale of geckos, saying reported cases are only the tip of the iceberg.

He said one gecko can sell for as much as P500,000 because of the traditional belief that it can cure various diseases.

Dr. Rodrigo Ong, who has researched on the medicinal effects of gecko, said the animal has been in use in Chinese medicine for centuries to cure back pain and kidney and lung problems.

He said the head and innards of the gecko are removed and its skin boiled in water for drinking. Its tail, which has the capacity to regenerate, is also boiled and given as a drink to cure damaged body tissues.

Ong explained that according to traditional Chinese beliefs, "the characteristic of the animal can be transferred to the human."

Ong, however, said he has not found enough evidence to prove the gecko's medicinal effects.

Dr. Eric Tayag of the Department of Health (DOH) pointed this out earlier in the hearing.

"There are no definitive studies at this time that actually complete the investigation on the potential cures of the gecko," he said. "At this time, the DOH does not the use of gecko in any treatment."