Officials Seize 3.1 Tons of Pangolin Scales

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Chinese officials recently made the largest pangolin parts bust in the country’s history, on Dec. 10, 2016. Authorities in Shanghai seized 3.1 tons of pangolin scales—estimated to represent 5,000 to 7,500 individual animals.

Smugglers had concealed the scales in a shipping container registered as transporting timber from Nigeria. Officials have arrested three people in connection with the bust. News of the bust came on the heels of China’s recent announcement that it would ban its domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017.

“A seizure of this size underscores the pangolin’s reputation as the most-trafficked mammal on Earth—but that officials have made such a large-scale seizure is certainly worth celebrating,” says Philip Muruthi, African Wildlife Foundation’s (AWF’s) vice president for species protection. “In addition to China’s decision to ban trade in ivory, this shows that the Chinese government is serious about its commitment to shutting down wildlife trafficking. Further, it sends a message to traffickers that they cannot get away with stealing Africa’s natural heritage.”

The bust comes just months after pangolins received the highest possible level of protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES). Pangolins are in high demand in countries such as China and Vietnam, where consumers use their scales in traditional medicine and consider their meat as a delicacy. In an effort to save the world’s most-trafficked mammal from the threat of extinction, parties to CITES agreed to a total ban on all international trade in pangolins this past September.

Through its Canines for Conservation program, AWF has been working to stem the trafficking of pangolin scales and other wildlife parts from airports and seaports in Africa. AWF-trained detection dogs working at airports in East Africa have, on a number of occasions, detected pangolin scales that airline passengers were attempting to smuggle to Asia. In addition to several seizures of less than 1 kg each, an AWF-trained canine unit helped intercept 500 kg of pangolin scales—half a ton—from Sierra Leone en route to Thailand in March. Detection dogs later discovered an additional 500 kg of scales in a cargo container in transit from Guinea to Laos in June.