Malaysian Customs Seizes Six Tonnes of African Pangolin Scales

pangolin scales

Published Apr 4, 2020 8:23 PM by The Maritime Executive

Malaysian Customs in Port Klang have seized over six tonnes of African pangolin scales - the largest such seizure to date in Malaysia’s busiest port. 

Enforcement officers from the Central Zone Unit II found the 6,160 kg of scales in a 20-foot-container, hidden underneath a layer of sacks of cashew nuts. The consignment had been declared as cashew nuts - a common false declaration for shipments carrying African ivory and pangolin scales.

The importer and the customs agent involved in the shipment are being investigated, but no arrests have been made so far.

Port Klang has seen seizures of both ivory and pangolin scales from African countries in the past decade. The last seizure of pangolin scales at this port, a shipment of over topped two tonnes, took place at West Port in Port Klang in September 2017. 

That year also saw a record number of African pangolin scale seizures at both Malaysian airports and seaports, amounting to almost 18 tonnes. It included Malaysia’s largest to date, which was eight tonnes of African pangolin scales in Sepanggar Port, in Sabah. Close to three tonnes of the scales seized in 2017 have since been incinerated. 

"With the the country’s resources focused on dealing with the public health coronavirus pandemic, those behind this shipment probably thought they'd get one over the Royal Malaysian Customs, but were themselves caught out,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Director for the NGO TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia. 

“This hopefully shows traffickers that enforcement agencies aren’t letting their guard down during trying times. Stopping illegal wildlife trade should be part of continued, long term efforts to curb the threat of zoonotic diseases,” she said. 

This seizure also points to traffickers diversifying routes as enforcement is stepped up across the region, and is perhaps a response to the almost 40 tonnes of African pangolin scales that were seized in Singapore last year.

Apart from Singapore, large shipments of pangolin scales smuggled from Africa have also recently been seized in Thailand and Vietnam. Including this six-tonne seizure by Malaysia, these four countries alone have intercepted over 106 tonnes of African pangolin scales since 2017. A significant proportion of these was reportedly headed for Vietnam.  

New tool to track wildlife trade

TRAFFIC has launched the Wildlife Trade Portal which it says is set to become the most comprehensive open-access repository of wildlife trade data. The Portal has been developed with the support of Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, via the ReTTA project.

The initial roll out of the Portal allows users to access relevant information from TRAFFIC’s wildlife trade seizure database.

In the new Portal, seizure data can be viewed as a list or within a dashboard of interactive charts and maps. Users can gather in-depth information about specific incidents, such as the species involved, products seized or the location and export the results for further analysis.

Australia Calls for end to wet markets

There is currently intense interest in the illegal trade in wildlife, given its potential link to the public health crisis caused by Covid-19.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that the nation will be strident in calling for a crack down on wildlife trade. Scientific evidence points to the COVID-19 coronavirus first emerging from a wet market trading live wildlife in Wuhan, China. Wildlife markets have, in the past, spawned or exacerbated other global health crises, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the deadly bird flu.

Morrison made the point that these markets are not unique to China and present a risk wherever they operate in the world. Humane Society International (HSI) is also calling for a global clamp down on wildlife trade. The capture, market trade, and butchery of wild animal species for human consumption happens across large parts of the world including Indonesia, India, Vietnam, and West, Central and East Africa, as well as in Latin America. “Governments around the world must unite to shut down this trade for good”, said Nicola Beynon HSI Head of Campaigns in Australia.