Pangolin scales worth $1.2M seized in Malaysia

The scales of the endangered pangolin, the world's most heavily-trafficked mammal, are highly prized in some parts of Asia and Africa. This is the second time Malaysian authorities seized such a large amount of pangolin scales in three days.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Malaysian customs officials pose with seized pangolin scales. Malaysian authorities seized almost 400 kilogrammes of critically endangered pangolins scales trafficked from Ghana worth five million ringgit ($1.2 million) for the second time in three days.

A $1.2 million illegal shipment of scales from the critically endangered pangolin have been uncovered in Malaysia, officials said on Friday, the second such seizure in a week.

Customs officials at Kuala Lumpur International Airport discovered 16 boxes of the smuggled scales weighing almost 400 kilogrammes (880 pounds).

It was further evidence that trade in the world's most heavily trafficked mammal remains a major problem despite concerted efforts to clamp down. 

Last Friday, customs officers seized almost 300 kilogrammes of scales from the creatures, which are also known as "scaly anteaters."

Both shipments had come from Ghana and been transported by Turkish Airlines.

Pangolins – docile mammals with a thick armour – are indigenous to parts of Southeast Asia and Africa.

Their meat is considered a delicacy in China and their scales are sometimes used in the production of crystal methamphetamine. Its body parts are also used as an ingredient in traditional medicine in parts of Asia – particularly China – and Africa.

Soaring demand for the reclusive creature has seen an estimated one million pangolins plucked from Asian and African forests over the past decade, sending their numbers to perilous lows.

Last year, the reclusive, gentle mammal received the highest level of protection against illegal trade at a global conference in South Africa.

Elizabeth John, senior communications officer of the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (Traffic), hailed the rapid success of the customs department in making two such busts within a week.

"But there is also a need for intelligence-led cross border investigations to nab the big players who are driving the trade," she told AFP.

Authorities in neighbouring Indonesia on Wednesday seized hundreds of live pangolins and scales in a haul worth $190,000.

Malaysia last month made its largest haul of such scales, 712 kilogrammes estimated to be worth more than $2 million.

Indonesian authorities seized $190,000 worth of pangolins and scales on Wednesday after uncovering a major smuggling operation.