Scales from 11,000 Pangolins Seized in Hong Kong from Nigeria

A juvenile and mother White bellied tree pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) at the Pangolin Conservation in St. Augustine, FL. © Joel Sartore

Nigeria – The Nigerian Minister of Environment, Ibrahim Usman Jibril, has opened an investigation into the seizure by the Hong Kong Customs Service of 7,100 kilos of pangolins scales – representing approximately 11,000 pangolins, according to Pangolin Conservation.

“The Ministry has initiated the investigation of the reported illegal trade by communicating officially with the Hong Kong CITES Management Authority with a view of furnishing the documents that will be forwarded to INTERPOL for further investigation.”, stated Jibril. The 40’ container of pangolin scales was discovered at the Tsing Yi Cargo Examination Compound on July 20, 2018, according to the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department. It’s manifest listed the pangolin scales as “880 bags of plastic raw materials”. “A total of 284 bags carrying suspected pangolin scales were found in the container,” a law enforcement source said. He said the consignment was destined for the Chinese province of Guangdong.

Traditional medicine containing pangolin scales and herbs. © Justin Miller

Pangolin scales are often used in Asian traditional medicine, with practitioners falsely believing the fingernail-like scales have medical properties for things like increased blood flow to open wounds or can heal skin conditions. They have no medical significance. The scales are made of the same thing as your hair, keratin. In January 2017, all eight species of pangolins were banned from international trade. Within Nigeria pangolins were listed as endangered in 2016.

Justin Miller – Director of Pangolin Conservation – said that, “The majority of scales from Nigeria, and smuggled from neighboring countries, would have come from the White-bellied tree pangolin.” Miller then stated that based on statistical analysis 7,100 kilograms of pangolins scales smuggled out of Nigeria would represent approximately 11,000 individual pangolins, with a smaller percentage of animals being the Giant pangolin and Black-bellied tree pangolin. “There is currently a rapidly escalating trade in pangolin products being smuggled out of Africa, with countries in West Africa appearing be a major transit hub for these illicit products.

Mr. Jibril noted that the pangolin scales were likely from other countries because the pangolins were nearly extinct in Nigeria. He continued, “Nigeria is being used as a transit route for illegal wildlife trade and the image of our nation is being severed.” While Nigeria is a transit hub Miller says, “Live pangolins are still openly offered in Nigeria in rural communities, showing that pangolins are still being hunted in Nigeria with little enforcement from the the Nigerian government.

Miller ended, “We must do more to safeguard pangolins in West Africa, but must also prepare for the worst case scenario by continued development of a conservation breeding group of pangolins within zoos.”

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