BANGKOK • Thai Customs police yesterday unveiled a massive three-tonne cache of seized pangolin scales intended for Asia's lucrative wildlife markets, where feverish demand for the "scaly anteater" has turned it into the most trafficked mammal on earth.
The shy pangolin's brown scales are made of nothing more than keratin - the same substance as fingernails - but are highly prized in Vietnam and China, where they are misleadingly touted as bearing medicinal properties.
Soaring demand has seen an estimated one million pangolins plucked from Asian and African forests over the past decade.
The Thai police said the scales had been seized from two air cargo hauls at Bangkok's main airport. The contraband was shipped from the Congo, smuggled through Turkey and eventually bound for Laos - a key transit hub for regional trafficking syndicates.
"This is the biggest lot (of pangolin scales) that we have seized," said Police Major-General Worapong Thongpaiboon, acting commander of the Natural Resources and Environment Crime Division.
Thai Customs chief Kulit Sombatsiri said an estimated 6,000 pangolins were killed for the scales.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS