Pangolin scale smuggling operation intercepted in Hong Kong

About 2,000 kilograms of pangolin scales worth an estimated $10-million have been seized by Hong Kong Customs, according to the government. The scaly and shy, but lovable-looking pangolins are endangered species, suffering mass population declines amid rampant poaching.

Officials announced Friday the interception of sea-bound cargo arriving from Nigeria from a container at the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound. Customs officers found the pangolin scales in 44 nylon bags in the container on March 17.

It’s unclear how many pangolins would have been killed to amass 2,000 kilograms of the creature’s scales. What’s worse, seizures generally represent just 10 to 20 percent of the actual illegal trade volume.

Handout: Hong Kong government
Handout: Hong Kong government

While there are eight species of pangolin – all are in danger of extinction due to the illegal trade for meat. It’s a delicacy in China and Vietnam. And, its keratin scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine, even though, as experts say, there’s evidence of medicinal properties.

According to officials in Hong Kong, the bags of pangolin scales were not declared on the manifest. And, Under the Import and Export Ordinance, any person found guilty of doing so is liable to a maximum fine of $2-million and seven years in prison.

And, under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, any person found guilty of illegally importing such specimens without a licence is liable to a maximum fine of $50,000 and six months in jail.

Somehow, neither penalty seems sufficient.

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Photos San Diego Zoo/Flickr

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Recovering newspaper reporter.

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