When China brought the hammer down on the ivory trade at the end of 2017 it was good news for elephants, but not so good for species such as the pangolin, or scaly anteater, as they are also known.
Slow moving and more prolific than tigers, wildlife poachers catering to the Chinese and Vietnamese markets simply moved to a different, significantly less dangerous, animal.
Exactly how great a threat the pangolin is under and the role ‘Asean’ is playing in its destruction is reflected in figures showing that more than 40 tonnes of pangolin products have been seized in the region already this year.
The UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) prohibits trade in the world’s eight species of pangolin. A ready market in China, and Vietnam, however, is keeping authorities across the region busy.
30 tonnes of pangolins seized in Malaysia
In February Malaysian authorities reported the largest seizure ever of pangolin products after wildlife protection authorities raided a factory and a warehouse in Sabah, Borneo.
Thought to have been operating for seven years, authorities seized 30 tons of pangolin products estimated to be worth more than $2 million, including three refrigerated containers containing 1,800 boxes of frozen pangolins and 361 kilogrammes (about 795lbs) of pangolin scales. Sixty-two pangolins were found alive and sent for rehabilitation.
|76 live pangolins were rescued by Thai police who stopped and searched a pickup in Sam Roi Yot district, central Thailand
Video: News Today
Last December Malaysia incinerated more than 2.8 tonnes of pangolin scales worth some $9 million, seized in three different incidents between May and September 2017.
A little more than two weeks later Malaysian authorities at the Sadao Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) complex on the Thailand border apprehended a Malaysian policeman attempting to smuggle 47 live pangolins worth more than $31,000 into Thailand.
All roads lead to China
At the time of his apprehension he allegedly told authorities the animals were destined for China.
A few days later Thai police in Sam Roi Yot district, central Thailand, intercepted a pickup truck whose load of lumber concealed 76 live pangolins, which authorities said were worth some $315,000.
According to local media reports the man admitted to having trafficked pangolins on two previous occasions, and is said to have told police the animals were on their way to China.
|Alarming statistics on pangolin poaching in Asean
Video by Traffic International
While Sabah and Thailand have become established transit routes for pangolin smugglers, seizures would tend to indicate the demand is so great that any method or route will be tried. All routes though lead to China.
In Lao PDR authorities freed more than 200 live pangolins in last year, while Cambodia has intercepted and freed more than 375 pangolins between 2012 and 2018.
In Vietnam, where an active black market for pangolin meat exists, authorities have been active too.
In late January 1.4 tonnes of pangolin scales were uncovered at Haiphong Port, while in Hà Tĩnh, on Vietnam’s North Central Coast, authorities busted a wildlife trafficking ring, freeing 215 pangolins in the process.
These seizures come on top of those last October which saw 10 tonnes of pangolin scales seized in Da Nag, 805 kilograms (1,774lbs) detected in air cargo shipments in September, and more than 7 tonnes of pangolin scales seized in two separate seizures at Saigon Port and Cat Lai Port last April and May.
According to Traffic International, an England-based international NGO working globally on the trade in wild animals and plants, more than one million pangolin have been poached from the wild in the last 10 years.
It says smugglers open 27 new global trade routes annually, with more than 159 documented routes used between 2010 and 2015.
Fake news: Pangolins and methamphetamine
Pangolins are believed to have medicinal value, their use in China dating back many decades.
Taken for a wide range of ailments as diverse as coronary heart disease and cancer, many Chinese and Vietnamese men believe the scales have aphrodisiac properties. However, controlled trials have found treatments using pangolin scales useless.
Pangolin scales have also been widely reported as containing Tramadol HCL, a substance binder particle found in psychotropic drugs such as methamphetamine.
The claim first appears to have first been made in a September 2016 Times of India story, and repeated in recognised publications including the Sydney Morning Herald, The Nation, Phys.org, and TodayOnline.
In an email response to inquiries made by AEC News Today asking whether Interpol had ever issued such a statement, the international law enforcement agency replied: “To confirm that INTERPOL has not issued any such report or statement”. The use of pangolin scales in the manufacture of methamphetamines, or any other drug, is fake news.
Officially the most trafficked mammal in the world, it is estimated that one pangolin is removed from the wild every five minutes, rapidly pushing the critically endangered Sunda Pangolin native throughout Asean to the brink of extintion.
Update: This story was last updated at 20:45 local time on March 27, 2019. The original version of this story and its title stated that pangolin scales are used in the manufacture of drug such as methamphetamine. AEC News Today reached out to Interpol again after one of our readers challenged us on the voracity of the claim. We were wrong.
The response from Interpol is incorporated in the story above. The section relating to the use of pangolin scales in the manufacture of methamphetamine has been rewritten to make it very clear that claims that Interpol have said that pangolin scales are used in the manufacture of methamphetamines is not true. AEC News Today sincerely apologies to its readers over the misinformation.
Originally published as: Chinese medicine, meth, & Asean’s role in pushing pangolins to the brink (video)
Feature video Wildlife Friends
- Man arrested with 76 pangolins (Bangkok Post)
- Southeast Asia – Gold mine for pangolin poachers (The Asean Post)
- Malaysia makes record seizure of endangered pangolins (Aljazeera)
Between November 2010 and February 2012 she was a staff writer at Daylight Online, Nigeria writing on health, fashion, and relationships. From 2010 – 2017 she worked as a freelance screen writer for ‘Nollywood’, Nigeria.
She joined AEC News Today in December 2016.