SINGAPORE: An illegal shipment carrying nearly 13 tonnes of pangolin scales, worth S$52.3 million, was intercepted and seized by Singapore authorities on Wednesday (Apr 3).
It was the largest seizure of pangolin scales globally in five years, said the Singapore Customs and National Parks Board (NParks). Around 17,000 pangolins were killed to make up the shipment.
The shipment was also carrying 177kg of cut up and carved elephant ivory, worth US$88,500 (S$120,000), said Singapore Customs and NParks in a news release on Thursday.
"That's heartbreaking from the conservation point of view because pangolin scales are just made of keratin - the same material as your hair - so scientifically there is no basis for its purported cure for illnesses," said Dr Adrian Loo, group director for wildlife management at NParks.
The haul, which was en route from Nigeria to Vietnam, was discovered in a 40-footer container, packed with frozen beef, at the Pasir Panjang Export Inspection Station. It was declared to contain only frozen beef.
The seizure was based on information received by Singapore Customs.
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The scales come from four pangolin species that are native to Africa, namely the White-Bellied Tree Pangolin, Black-Bellied Tree Pangolin, Temminck’s Ground Pangolin and Giant Ground Pangolin. All four species are considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Both pangolins and elephants are protected species and international trade in elephant ivory and pangolins are not allowed. They are poached and traded for ornamental and bogus medicinal uses.
This is the third time Singapore has intercepted the illegal trade of pangolin scales. The last two cases were in 2015 and 2016. It is also the ninth time that a shipment of elephant ivory has been seized.
Under the Endangered Species (Import & Export) Act, the maximum penalty for illegal import, export and re-export of wildlife is a fine of up to S$500,000 and two years’ imprisonment.
The same penalties apply to transit or transhipment of illegal wildlife species, including their parts and derivatives.
The scales and ivory pieces will be destroyed following the seizure. Investigations are ongoing, said NParks.