Pangolin Conservation – 16,093 lbs (7,300 kg) of pangolin scales from Nigeria were seized today in Hong Kong (an autonomous territory of China), according to customs officials. The valuable of the pangolin scales was reported as $1,805,182 US dollars (14 million Hong Kong Dollars).
They were found on a cargo shipped in the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound and declared as “660 bags of recycled plastic particles”. Customs officials found that 259 bags contained pangolin scales of approximately 7,300 kg. This just after a smaller (but still HUGE) seizure of scales at 3,600 kg was discovered in Hong Kong just last month!
The pangolin scales were not declared on the customs manifest and did not have the proper CITES permits for international trade. Current customs regulations stated that “any person found guilty of importing unmanifested cargoes is liable to a maximum fine of $2 million ($257,871 USD) and imprisonment for seven years.” An additional law (the protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance) requires an additional license. “Any person found guilty of importing an endangered species without a licence is liable to a maximum fine of $5 million ($644,678 USD) and imprisonment for two years.”
While the species of pangolin scales have not been disclosed, four species are native to Africa. Of those, three species are found in Nigeria and neighboring countries; the Giant pangolin (Smutsia gigantea), the White-bellied tree pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis), and the Black-bellied Tree Pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla). At least one of the photos appears to show scales of the Giant pangolin (Smutsia gigantea). The IUCN considers all three species as threatened/vulnerable. However, the true population declines of these animals are not well known (it is one of our efforts to do population estimates to track declines).
Sadly, as Asian pangolin species continue to dwindle, the focus of wildlife smugglers is turning increasingly to Africa to supply the ever increasing demand for traditional medicine. This despite the scales being made of keratin, the same material as our fingernails. West Africa has become a central hub for smugglers, with most exports appearing to come from Nigeria. The team of Pangolin Conservation has been on the ground in Ghana and Togo to better understand the trade in pangolins in those countries. We hope to extend our research into other West African countries such as Nigeria, Benin, and Cameroon. These efforts are made possible by donations from the public and support from our zoological partners in the USA.
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Article written by the unpaid staff of Pangolin Conservation according to news releases by hong Kong officials.