Twelve Tons of Pangolin Scales Found in Shipping Container


Published Dec 2, 2017 3:14 AM by The Maritime Executive

Customs officials in Shenzhen, China, have revealed that they seized nearly 12 tons of pangolin scales in a shipping container at a local port – a record for the nation.

Pangolin scales are used in some traditional Chinese medicines, and the meat is highly prized, making pangolins the most heavily trafficked mammal in the world. Officials believe that some 20,000 pangolins would have had to be slaughtered in order to amass that many scales.

The scales were discovered inside a shipping container in July which was listed as being empty. However, officers became suspicious when they instead found the container full of charcoal. Upon further inspection, they discovered 239 bags stuffed with pangolin parts. Two suspects have since been arrested.

International trade in pangolins was banned under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) last year. Increased demand in China has led to declines in pangolin populations across Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, with some research indicating that pangolins from Indonesia and Malaysia now supply the bulk of East Asian markets. However, traders are importing pangolins into China from as far away as Africa, where four of the eight known species of the anteater live.

The decline in pangolin populations and intensified efforts to curb the illegal trade have led to rising prices for pangolin products - further enticing organized crime rings to smuggle the endangered animals. 

Governments and non-governmental organizations have undertaken a variety of conservation efforts, with varying degrees of success in different parts of the world. A significant challenge to conservationists is the difficulty pangolins have in captivity. The animals do not adapt well to alternative or artificial foods and suffer stress, depression and malnutrition, leading to significantly shortened lifespans. For these reasons they are rarely found in zoos or visible to the public while alive.