Pangolin scales intended for smuggling, worth around $800,000 were displayed by Thai police. The police landed this huge catch weighing over 3 tonnes after a smuggling investigation. African Pangolins are among the most poached and their scales among the most smuggled animal products in the world. Officials estimate that around 6000 animals must have been killed to obtain such an amount.
The police seized the haul in december and unveiled it on thursday at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. Officials state that the animals originate mostly from Congo. “All of these were sent originally from Congo, through Turkey to a third country,” says Kulit Sombatsiri, Director General of Customs Dept.
Pangolins were blanket-banned for international trade in January for all 8 species of this mammal. They are practically defenseless since their defense mechanism consists of curling up into a spike ball, offering good protection against its wildlife predators, but easy pickings for humans. Most of the demand for these and other exotic products from Africa comes from Asia’s extensive wildlife marketplace. A large portion of smuggled pangolin scales is used for home medicine – as a traditional remedy for asthma, arthritis etc.
Sometimes called ‘scaly anteaters’ for their choice in diet, pangolins are often victims of smuggling and animal related crimes. In Africa, they are sometimes hunted as food even though four out of eight species of pangolin are listed as vulnerable, two are endangered and the remaining two deemed critically endangered.
The World Wildlife Fund estimates that the busted smuggles represent only a tenth of the actual trade that goes unpunished. What worsens the situation even more is that these activities are an obstacle to estimating how many of these animals are actually left in the wild.
This is not the only bust of illegal pangolin scales trade in 2016 and, sadly, not even the largest one. In june Hong Kong officials announced one of the largest captures of African pangolin scales in the last 5 years – 4,4 tons of scales stashed in a container marked “sliced plastics” from Cameroon, according to a press release from the government. That package was estimated to represent up to 6600 murdered animals giving $1.25 million worth of scales.