For this one shipment alone as many as 13,000 pangolins were slaughtered.
Nine tons of pangolin scales and 1,000 tusks from African elephants. Officials in Hong Kong have seized this vast hoard of illicit animal parts in a single shipment, indicating the appalling extent of the illegal wildlife trade. The parts, which were discovered on a cargo ship from Nigeria that had been on its way to Vietnam, would have been worth around $8 million on the black market.
“Customs have done a great job,” Alex Hofford, a wildlife campaigner for the conservationist group WildAid, was quoted as saying. “However, we want the Hong Kong government to take a step further. At the moment, they’re just catching the mules, the people who collect the containers — not the people at the top of the pyramid.”
Despite stepped-up efforts to protect pangolins throughout their ranges in Africa and Asia, the illegal trade in their meat and scales, the latter of which are believed in traditional Chinese medicine to posses curative properties, is continuing unabated. For this latest shipment alone as many as 13,000 pangolins, as well as 500 elephants, were slaughtered, driving the placid scaly insectivores, which enjoy the dubious distinction of being the world’s “most trafficked mammals,” ever closer into extinction in the wild.
Although the consumption of pangolins has been outlawed in China since 1989, many Chinese citizens continue to flout the law with wanton abandon. In neighboring Vietnam too pangolins are highly prized for their scales, which contain keratin, the stuff of fingernails. In 207 a woman dubbed the Pangolin Princess was arrested in Shenzhen, China, after she posted pictures of herself feasting on pangolins to social media.
According to estimates, the population of Chinese pangolins stood at somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 in 2003. That figure was a drop of around 94% since the 1960s. What with the numbers of the country’s pangolins thinned, Chinese citizens have turned elsewhere to fuel their demand for pangolin scales and meat.
Africa’s and Southeast Asia’s beleaguered pangolins are being driven extinct at alarming rates. As many as 100,000 pangolins are killed each year by poachers, according to conservationists. “It is clearly impossible that the pangolin species can withstand such high rates of poaching, trafficking and trade,” stressed Hofford, of WildAid. “Eight tonnes is outrageous.”