‘15,000 pangolins slaughtered’ for 7 tonnes of scales seized in China

Customs officials intercept three hauls since July of the endangered mammals, which are protected but are prized for their scales, meat and blood

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 11:32am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 10:47pm

Authorities have seized more than seven tonnes of pangolin scales smuggled into south China from Africa since July, equivalent to 15,000 of the protected anteaters, which are believed to be the world’s most trafficked mammals.

Customs officers from Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, intercepted 7,262kg of pangolin scales in three batches, Legal Daily reported this week.

Helped by police, a task force captured four suspected smugglers. The leader of the gang, identified only by his surname Liu, has been arrested.

While their scales are valued for their use in traditional Chinese medicine, the mammals’ meat is considered a delicacy. Their blood is used as a healing tonic.

“The cost of the scales from Africa is only about 340 yuan (US$49) per kilogram, but when they arrive in the Chinese black market, they are sold for 5,600 yuan per kilogram,” task force member Liang Jinkun was quoted as saying.

“The huge mark-up has lured the suspects to take the risk [of violating the law].”

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Zheng Jun, deputy director of the Guangzhou customs anti-smuggling bureau, said it was rare in the mainland for “such a huge amount of products made from endangered animals [to be] seized via a shipment of commodities”.

More than two tonnes of scales were found packed in more than 100 white woven bags hidden in a shipment of granite slabs while they were being cleared for import in Luoding on July 11, Guangzhou customs officials were quoted as saying on Wednesday.

Officials became suspicious after noticing cracks in the slabs, and found the bags after a careful check-up, the report said.

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A task force was later set up and intercepted another two batches of pangolin scales, weighing about 2.7 tonnes and 2.3 tonnes, which had been smuggled into Guangzhou, to the northwest of Hong Kong, by the same method.

The quantity of scales seized amounted to poaching about 15,000 pangolins, according to Traffic, a non-governmental organisation that monitors wildlife trade to ensure it does not threaten the conservation of nature.

The scaly mammals, which live mostly in Asia and Africa, are increasingly victims of illegal wildlife crimes despite being protected under national and international laws.

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Although no authoritative estimate of pangolin populations exists, wildlife organisations believe its numbers are shrinking due to high demand for pangolin meat and scales, especially in China.

Pangolin scales are often used in traditional Chinese medicine to promote blood circulation, stimulate lactation, disperse swelling and expel pus. Its meat is consumed as a luxury food item, often as a badge of social status, according to Traffic.

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On average, about 20 tonnes of pangolins and their parts are trafficked internationally each year, according to a research report jointly released late last year by the organisation and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

China is the most common destination for large shipments of pangolin scales, while Asia as a whole is the primary arena for the trading of whole pangolins, the report said.