Some 38,000 pangolins in Africa were poached and killed for their scales for just two shipments seized in Singapore.
In early April authorities in Singapore seized 12.9 tons of pangolin scales in one of the biggest hauls in recent years. The scales, which would have been worth more than $52 million on the black market, were in a shipping container that was on its way from Nigeria to Vietnam.
The scales had been packed in 230 bags and stashed among packets of frozen beef. As many as 17,000 African pangolins were slaughtered to get that many scales in this one shipment alone.
Just five days later local authorities discovered another, nearly identical haul of pangolin scales, which weighed 12.7 tons. This time the container with the scales had been labeled as containing cassia seeds. It, too, was on its way from Nigeria to Vietnam, via Singapore.
In all, some 38,000 pangolins in Africa had been poached and killed for their scales for these two shipments. Pangolins have been poached nearly into extinction throughout their ranges in Africa and Asia, and these two seizures have served up yet another reminder that time is running out for the scaly mammals.
”It was estimated that on average 20 tons of scales were being smuggled each year,” said Crawford Allan, senior director at the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC. “Already in 2019 we have seen nearly twice that being detected and seized. And those are just the shipments that get detected.”
Many people in Vietnam and China continue to believe that keratin-rich pangolin scales possess medicinal properties (which they don’t). The scales are usually dried and ground up into a powder, which is then consumed as traditional Chinese medicine. Because of such mistaken beliefs, no pangolin is save anywhere.
Over the past decade more than one million of the scaly anteaters have been poached, most of them in Africa where criminal gangs often operate with impunity in the face of lax law enforcement. “For Central African forests in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo and Republic of Congo, we estimated that at least 400,000 pangolins are hunted annually for meat,” explains Daniel J. Ingram, a researcher at University College London.
Efforts by conservationist groups to educate locals in China and Vietnam about the need to protect pangolins from going extinct in the wild seem to have had little success so far. And that despite enlisting movie star Jackie Chan for the cause. Yet if the relentless poaching of pangolins does not stop, the days of these placid animals are numbered.