Major seizure in Indonesia: Pangolins on road to extinction?

29 April 2015

Yet another major seizure of pangolins is a sad testament to the fact that pangolins surely will soon go extinct if the massive illegal trade in their parts continues unabated.

On 23rd April 2015 the Indonesian National Police seized a massive shipment of pangolins. The haul included 5 tons of frozen pangolins, 77 kilograms of pangolin scales, and 96 live pangolins. The pangolin smuggler involved in the case has been arrested.

The seizure took place at the Belawan seaport in Medan, the largest city on the island of Sumatra. Belawan Seaport is notorious for being an import and exit point for illegal wildlife trafficking. The shipment was valued at approximately 1.8 million USD.

This is the largest case of pangolin smuggling in Indonesia since 2008 when the Indonesian National Police, supported by WCS’s WCU, arrested two smugglers and confiscated 13.8 tons of frozen pangolins in Palembang.

The smuggler, identified by the initials SHB, allegedly dealt and exported pangolins that he ordered from local dealers in Aceh and north Sumatra. Under Indonesian law, trafficking of pangolins, their parts and by-products is punishable by a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment and a maximum fine of USD $10,000.

In recent years, the price of pangolin has increased sharply in the international market, driven by demand from China. Based on current black market prices, the value of the seized shipment is 1.826 million USD. Pangolin scales (considered to have healing qualities by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners) are valued at USD $3,000 per kg, pangolin meat (considered a delicacy) at USD $300 per kg, and live pangolins at USD $992. Smugglers also ship pangolin innards, including foetuses, for traditional medicinal purposes.

Based upon evidence gathered during the arrest, the shipment was headed to China. In order to avoid police and customs detection, the suspect had exported the shipping container that held the pangolin cargo from a secondary port to a cargo ferry offshore, where it was obscured among other containers. The cargo ferry then docked at Belawan port where the container was to be transferred to a vessel destined for China via Haiphong Seaport in Vietnam. The exporter also shipped live pangolins to Penang, Malaysia through a remote seaport in Medan.

There are eight species of pangolins (Family: Manidae) still in existence worldwide. Four of the species are of Asian origin including the Sundanese Pangolin (Manis javanicus), which is listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The pangolin’s large scales are made of keratin, the same material as fingernails and rhino horns, and account for 20% of its weight.


Photo credits: Paul Hilton, WCS

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