Gang busted with 1,800 pangolins

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 April, 2005, 12:00am

Wildlife smugglers were caught yesterday trying to ship 1,800 rare pangolins out of Hong Kong.

About 150 boxes containing skinned, vacuum-packed pangolins - a protected species - were unloaded from trucks in Sai Kung Country Park on Monday night ready to be put onto a mainland-bound boat.

Conservationists called on police and countryside wardens to step up patrols.

Villagers in Hoi Ha Wan alerted police after a group of men began piling boxes on the beach. When one resident asked what the boxes contained, she was told it was a cargo of chicken wings.

Some men fled when police arrived and opened a box to find it full of pangolin carcasses. Three men aged 28 to 36 were arrested on suspicion of possessing a protected wildlife species without a licence and were released on bail.

Pangolins are small, lizard-like mammals covered with scales. They are eaten as a delicacy on the mainland, where their flesh is believed to have medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities and sells for more than $120 a kilogram.

There are some pangolins in Hong Kong but police sources said it was believed the pangolins found at Hoi Ha Wan were imported from Taiwan - where they are not subject to export restrictions - with the intention of smuggling them into the mainland.

'I doubt there are 1,800 pangolins in the whole of Hong Kong,' one source said.

'These must have come in from outside and they would sell for a very handsome price on the mainland.'

Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department officers were investigating the source of the haul. A spokesman said that if convicted, the smugglers faced a maximum $5 million fine or two years in jail.

Groups including WWF Hong Kong and Friends of Hoi Ha called for vigilance against smuggling protected species through the country parks. Eric Bohm, chief executive of WWF Hong Kong, said the case illustrated the need to improve patrols and enforcement of the law.

'The smuggling of animals to meet escalating demand is what creates endangered species. This must stop and it is the responsibility of all of us to bring this kind of activity to an end,' Mr Bohm said.

Nicola Newbery, of the Friends of Hoi Ha, said police and marine officers had been alerted to suspected smugglers in recent weeks. Only on Monday did they arrive in time to make any arrests.

She said it was 'scandalous that a protected marine park within a protected country park should be a staging point for the illegal export of meat from an endangered species'.