$52M worth of pangolin scales seized in Singapore

A shipment containing 12.9 tonnes of pangolin scales as well as 177kg of cut up and carved elephant ivory was seized on 3 April, 2019. (PHOTOS: NParks)
A shipment containing 12.9 tonnes of pangolin scales as well as 177kg of cut up and carved elephant ivory was seized on 3 April, 2019. (PHOTOS: NParks)

Almost 13 tonnes of pangolin scales worth about US$38.7 million (S$52.3 million) was seized in Singapore on Wednesday (3 April) in what the local authorities said was the biggest single haul globally in recent years.

Following an inspection of the 40-ft container by the National Parks Board (NParks) and Singapore Customs, the 12.9 tonnes of scales were found packed in 230 bags hidden among packs of frozen meat at the Pasir Panjang Export Inspection Station.

The shipment, bound for Vietnam from Nigeria, was declared to contain “frozen beef”. It also included 177kg of cut up and carved elephant ivory with an estimated worth of US$88,500 (S$120,000).

Authorities said that the scales are estimated to come from about 17,000 pangolins. They are from four species native to Africa: the White Bellied Tree Pangolin, the Black-Bellied Tree Pangolin, the Temminck’s Ground Pangolin, and the Giant Ground Pangolin.

The previous biggest haul on record occurred in China two years ago, where nearly 12 tonnes of pangolin scales were seized.

Previously, Singapore authorities intercepted two shipments of pangolin scales in 2015 and 2016, with an estimated total haul of about 440kg (0.44 tonne).

On the latest seizure, NParks said the scales and ivory will be disposed of via incineration after investigations are complete.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s SSC Pangolin Specialist Group, an estimated one million pangolins were taken from the wild for illegal international trade in the decade leading up to 2014, making them the “most heavily trafficked wild mammal in the world”.

Pangolin meat is considered to be a luxury product in consumer markets in Asia, especially China and Vietnam, while their scales are typically used as an ingredient in traditional Asian medicines, despite the absence of evidence about its purported medical benefit.

Pangolins and elephants are protected species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), of which Singapore is a signatory.

If convicted of illegal import, export, and re-export of wildlife, an offender can be fined a maximum of $500,000 or two years in jail, or both. These penalties apply to transit or transshipment of illegal wildlife species, including their parts and derivatives.

“The Singapore government adopts a zero-tolerance stance on the use of Singapore as a conduit to smuggle endangered species and their parts and derivatives,” said the authorities in a joint release on Thursday.

Other Singapore stories:

Singapore’s law ministry refutes Human Rights Watch criticism of proposed fake news laws: report

Edwin Tong disagrees with view of fake news law’s ‘chilling effect’ on political discussions