Local authorities in the city state confiscated 8.8 tons of ivory in what has been a record in Singapore.
Another day, another vast haul of illicit wildlife parts seized. This time in Singapore.
Authorities in the city state confiscated 8.8 tons of ivory in what has been a record in Singapore. The illegal stash of ivory, which came from around 300 African elephants, would have been worth an estimated nearly $13 million on the black market.
Stashed alongside the elephant tusks was 11.9 tons of pangolin scales. Scales from these placid, critically endangered mammals, which live in Africa and Asia, are used as ingredients in traditional medicine in countries like Vietnam and China. The scales in this shipment alone would have fetched more than $35 million for traffickers, according to an official estimate.
The elephant tusks and pangolin scales were on their way from Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa to Vietnam, their intended destination, via Singapore. Local officials made their move after receiving a tip-off about the large shipment of ivory and pangolin scales.
“The seized pangolin scales and elephant ivory will be destroyed to prevent them from re-entering the market,” said he Singapore Customs, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority and the National Parks Board.
This latest seizure of illicit wildlife parts highlights once again the vast scale of global wildlife trafficking. It’s a lucrative multibillion-dollar trade with transnational criminal groups behind it. Much of the illicit merchandise originates in Africa and is destined for China and Vietnam where demand is especially high for elephant ivory, rhino horns and pangolin scales.
In March this year, 9.1 tons of ivory was seized in Vietnam. In recent years similarly large shipments of African elephant tusks and pangolin scales have also been seized in Malaysia, Thailand and elsewhere across the region. Plenty more tusks, horns and scales may well have gone through customs unnoticed.
Singapore is a particularly favored transit point for transnational traffickers. “Singapore has always been inadvertently implicated in the global ivory trade for two reasons: its global connectivity, as well as the presence of a small domestic market where pre-1990s ivory can be legally sold,” Kim Stengert, chief communications officer for WWF Singapore, explains.
“The consistency of these large-scale seizures is strong evidence of organized crime behind illegal wildlife trade coming through or into Singapore,” Stengert adds.
This has been Singapore’s largest seizure of elephant ivory so far, eclipsing a previous record of 7.12 tons of ivory that was seized in the city in 2002. Meanwhile, the 237 bags of pangolin scales that have now been confiscated “brings the total to 37.5 tonnes of African pangolin scales seized in the island nation this year alone,” notes TRAFFIC, a prominent anti-wildlife trafficking group.
“The scale and persistence of trafficking into Southeast Asia is frightening,” observes Kanitha Krishnasamy, Director of TRAFFIC’s Southeast Asia program office. “But seizures like these are an important piece of the puzzle in determining if the illegal trade is being fed by recently poached animals or old stocks.”
A forensic examination of the newly seized tusks and scales can help determine their age and origin. “[T]his will help enormously in revealing those directly involved in the trafficking,” Krishnasamy says.