On Monday, the Singapore Customs and Immigration Department seized 12.7 tons of pangolin scales packaged in 474 bags in a container on the way from Vietnam to Vietnam. According to the agency, it was labeled as "Cassia Seed".
"The seized Pangolinskalen came from two types and correspond to about 21,000 Pangolinen," it is said in a press release. According to the Singaporean agency, the train was worth about 38.1 million dollars.
All eight species of pangolin are classified as "most endangered" by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
The nocturnal cat-sized animal, the only mammal completely covered in scales, survives ants and termites. Pangolin curls up in a threat into a ball and uses her scales as protection. This makes them easy prey for poachers who can easily pick them up.
They are highly prized in China and Vietnam, where their meat is consumed as a delicacy, and are believed to have medicinal properties – including support for breastfeeding and the cure of asthma or cancer. There is no scientific evidence to support one of these beliefs.
Peter Knights, CEO of WildAid, says several major seizures, including the last two in Singapore, indicate an increase in illegal trade.
"Nigeria seems to have become a focal point for all of West and Central Africa to soak up these pangolins and then transport them to China and Vietnam in these huge transports," he says.
Pangolin parts still allowed for sale
"The Chinese pangolin is nearing extinction and we are looking to President Xi to save the species," says Knights.
"China has traded in ivory, and poaching is still a problem, but it is nowhere near the endemic level of the past, and if they said that legal trade will be closed, this could be the biggest step which is being undertaken anywhere in the world to save the pangolin. "
Scales are still an important part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are dozens of alternatives.
"In traditional medicine there is really no need to use pangolin scales, they already have sustainable alternatives within the pharmacopoeia, so we ask:" Enough is enough, switch to these alternatives now, rather than two or three more years to make. "
TCM is the largest demand driver for pangolin parts, says Knights. If you take them out of the pharmacy, this has a big impact on reducing smuggling to Asia.
"The biggest step to reducing demand would be to say (to the government and practitioners):" TCM will not use them anymore – these are the alternatives, "he says." We are not against TCM, we are only against the use of endangered species in TCM. "
Knight says that speed is crucial." If it continues, we will lose all the pangolins.
"China may be the savior of the pangolin – at the moment it is the terror of the pangolin, but it could be the savior."