Pangolin scales worth a record $52 million seized in Singapore
230 bags of scales weighing 12.9 tonnes found hidden behind packets of frozen beef in 40-foot container
The 40-foot container being shipped from Nigeria to Vietnam was declared to contain frozen beef.
When Singapore authorities opened the container to inspect the contents, they saw packets of frozen beef.
But hidden behind them was contraband worth millions of dollars reaped from the slaughter of thousands of animals.
The officers from National Parks Board (NParks) and Singapore Customs had scored the biggest single haul of pangolin scales in the world in recent years.
The final tally: 230 bags, each containing 50kg to 70kg of pangolin scales, weighing a total of 12.9 tonnes with a street value of $52.3 million.
Also found in the container were 177kg of cut and carved elephant ivory worth $120,000.
The officers, acting on information from sources, conducted the joint operation at the Pasir Panjang Export Inspection Station on Wednesday.
NParks told a press conference yesterday that the previous biggest haul on record was almost 12 tonnes of scales seized in Shenzhen, China, in 2017.
The value of $52.3 million is based on the published market price of pangolin scales for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it added.
The scales found were from four species native to Africa: the white-bellied tree pangolin, black-bellied tree pangolin, giant ground pangolin and Temminck's ground pangolin .
Taking into account the weight of the four species, NParks estimates that 17,000 pangolins were killed to obtain the 12.9 tonnes of scales.
The four African species and another four in Asia range from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered.
There has been a rise in pangolin smuggling in recent years because of the high demand for its scales for use in TCM. Its meat is also considered a delicacy in some countries.
Dr Adrian Loo, group director of Wildlife Management at NParks, said there was no proven medical benefit from their use in TCM.
"Pangolin scales are made of keratin, the same substance found in our hair and fingernails. The basis that they may have any cure is unfounded," he told The New Paper.
Dr Loo added: "This seizure shows our zero tolerance against illegal wildlife trade."
Mr Lim Guan Cheong, Singapore Customs' head of Sea Checkpoints Branch, told TNP: "Our role is to strengthen the security and resilience of Singapore's supply chain at the checkpoints. We are there to prevent Singapore from being used as a conduit for such smuggling activities."
Singapore is a signatory of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), which placed pangolins on its priority list last year because of its status as the world's most trafficked mammal.
There were two previous seizures of pangolin scales, with a total weight of 440 kg, being smuggled in Singapore in 2015 and 2016.
The pangolin scales and elephant ivory in the latest seizure will be incinerated once investigations are completed to prevent them from going back to illegal trade.
Under the Endangered Species (Import & Export) Act, anyone involved in the illegal import, export and re-export of wildlife can be fined up to $500,000 and jailed for up to two years.
Ms Anbarasi Boopal, deputy chief executive of The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, told TNP yesterday that there was an urgent need to protect pangolins.
She said: "Their numbers are dwindling, and the seizures in the recent past in this region show an urgent need to not only clamp down on the smuggling but to also reduce the demand for the scales and meat. It is time to question ourselves, do we really want to continue making these animals suffer and wipe out these beautiful animals for medicine, exotic meat, jewellery and souvenirs?"
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