Pangolin Seizure Highlights Continent-Wide Trafficking Dilemma

By Nina Rygh, Asia Reporter

Vietnam has seized roughly a ton of pangolin scales and ivory hidden in cargo packages from Nigeria.

Authorities at Hanoi's airport found 805 kg of pangolin scales as well as 193 kg of ivory and ivory-derived products in two dozen cargo boxes.

The goods were sent from two companies based in Nigeria, according to the labeling on the packages. They arrived on a flight in September but were never picked up.

"The [intended] recipients of the cargo package have refused to receive the goods,” officials said.

Wildlife Trafficking in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asian countries have become a busy thoroughfare for illegal wildlife and their parts. Elephants tusks are frequently trafficked from Africa and destined for other parts of Asia, mainly China. Pangolins are valued in Vietnam and the surrounding region for both their meat and the alleged medicinal properties of their scales.

Pangolin Seizure in Malaysia

Another Southeast Asian country is also making headlines as Malaysians first prosecution in connection with another large-scale pangolin seizure is about to commence.

The case involves a seizure in July 2017 and is the first trial linked to Malaysia’s transit role in the global pangolin trade. The businessman charged in the case faces penalties from his connection with a Sepanggar Port shipment of 227 sacks of pangolin scales that weighed over eight tons.

This case is pursuing a unique prosecution method. Rather than being tried as a wildlife crime, the case is moving forward as a violation of local customs law. Malaysia’s 1967 Customs Act carries hefty financial penalties which are determined, in part, by the value of smuggled goods. The consignment of scales was valued by Customs at over MYR100 million ($24 million). However, the accused businessman could face up to MYR2 billion ($242 million) in penalties if convicted.

Global Pangolin Trafficking

Pangolins are one of the most heavily trafficked mammals worldwide. Since 2002, the African pangolin has been the most heavily targeted as poaching decimated Asian species.

Every year, an average of 20 tonnes of pangolins and their parts are trafficked internationally according to a University of Adelaide and TRAFFIC study. During this period, more than 55 tons of pangolin scales were trafficked.

Relatively unknown and not as well publicized as other species, the poaching of pangolins has long been a regional issue. However, as awareness of the situation in communities less familiar with the pangolin expands, the efforts to protect pangolins are taking a global perspective.