Second haul of pangolin scales seized

VIDEO: NPARKS
About 12.7 tonnes of pangolin scales, which are in high demand for use in traditional Chinese medicine, were seized by the authorities on Monday at the Pasir Panjang Scanning Station.
About 12.7 tonnes of pangolin scales, which are in high demand for use in traditional Chinese medicine, were seized by the authorities on Monday at the Pasir Panjang Scanning Station.PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD, MANDAI PARK HOLDINGS
About 12.7 tonnes of pangolin scales, which are in high demand for use in traditional Chinese medicine, were seized by the authorities on Monday at the Pasir Panjang Scanning Station.
About 12.7 tonnes of pangolin scales, which are in high demand for use in traditional Chinese medicine, were seized by the authorities on Monday at the Pasir Panjang Scanning Station.PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD, MANDAI PARK HOLDINGS

Seizure worth over $50m comes just 5 days after first; sign of organised gang, say experts

Yet another massive haul of pangolin scales worth more than $50 million was confiscated by local authorities on Monday, the second in less than a week.

The sheer size of these unprecedented seizures points to industrial-scale sourcing, processing and distribution by criminal syndicates, say experts, who are calling for international investigations to nab the culprits. About 12.7 tonnes of the animal parts were seized from a 40ft container that was en route from Nigeria to Vietnam.

This came a mere five days after a record 12.9 tonnes of pangolin scales were seized by the authorities here last Wednesday.

The seizure of pangolin scales last week was likely the largest single seizure of its kind the world has seen - surpassing the 11.9 tonnes seized in Shenzhen, China, in 2017.

The haul on Monday came from two species, the white-bellied tree pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) and the giant ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea), and is likely to have come from 21,000 pangolins.

The container was declared to contain "cassia seeds" but was found to be holding the animal parts estimated to be worth about $51.6 million, in 474 bags, at the Pasir Panjang Scanning Station.

The combined 25.6 tonnes seized in the two hauls this month were about 58 times the combined weight of the first two pangolin scale shipments intercepted in Singapore in 2015 and 2016, which amounted to about 0.44 tonnes, or 440kg.

The scales of the pangolin are in high demand in Asia for use in traditional Chinese medicine, despite there being no proven medicinal benefit from their use.

  • OTHER LARGE SEIZURES

  • $1.5m in elephant tusks and ivory found in crates
    In 2002, the Singapore authorities seized six tonnes of smuggled african elephant tusks and ivory worth about $1.5 million in one of the biggest hauls here.

    The 532 tusks and 40,810 ivory pieces were kept in six wooden crates on a container en route to Japan.

  • More than 1,000 tortoises smuggled in luggage
    n Indian national who had arrived in Singapore from Chennai, India, was caught smuggling 1,092 endangered star tortoises in four pieces of luggage at Changi Airport in 2002. He was fined $5,000 and jailed for eight weeks.

  • 32 animals, including pythons, seized from flat
    In one of the biggest seizures of illegal wildlife from a home in Singapore, the then Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority raided an HDB flat in Toa Payoh North in 2012 and seized 32 wild and endangered animals.

    These included three rare ball pythons, two indian star tortoises, two green iguanas, one lined flat-tail gecko, a slow loris, a common marmoset, two sailfin dragons and five ornate horned frogs.

    Vanessa Liu

 

A spokesman for the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic told The Straits Times that it is highly likely the same organised gangs are behind both cases this month, given similarities between the two. He said the large quantities of giant ground pangolins involved in both shipments - a species that is not native to Nigeria - point strongly to sourcing of the animals outside Nigeria, possibly from Central Africa, a region known to be a major source of other illegal wildlife products. This suggests the involvement of criminal networks.

"There has never been a more opportune moment for full and thorough international investigations and collaborations to take place to find out who has perpetrated these criminal acts and bring those behind them to justice."

In a joint statement, the National Parks Board, Singapore Customs and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority of Singapore (ICA) said they have a risk assessment framework in place to help target shipments involved in illegal wildlife trade. Information is also shared among international agencies.

A spokesman for ICA said security checks are conducted by ICA officers on every incoming container at the Pasir Panjang Scanning Station. The officers use handheld detectors to scan for traces of security-sensitive materials.

As investigations are ongoing, the local authorities are unable to reveal more details about the operations.

Last month, at a Special Asean Ministerial Meeting on Illegal Wildlife Trade in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Asean member states committed to strengthening their efforts to curb illegal wildlife trade.

According to the Traffic website, South-east Asia acts as a source, transit and destination for a wide variety of trafficked wildlife products, including elephant ivory, rhino horn, pangolins, reptiles, tigers and songbirds.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2019, with the headline 'Second haul of pangolin scales seized'. Print Edition | Subscribe