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Malaysia Seizes Largest Haul Of Illegal Pangolin Scales in Trafficking Bust

The scales were worth an estimated US$2 million on the black market.
Pangolin scales. Photo via US Fish and Wildlife Service

Malaysian authorities have seized the country's largest haul of illegal pangolin scales, officials said on Monday, striking a major blow in the trans-national trade in this endangered species. The bust, which totaled 700 kilograms, reportedly arrived at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport from Kinshaha, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was estimated to be worth as much as $2 million USD (Rp 26.6 billion) on the black market.


Authorities believe it took the death of as many as 1,400 pangolins to produce this many scales. It's the largest pangolin bust in Malaysian history, but it's also only the latest. Malaysia is considered a key transit point in the pangolin trade as traffickers in Africa and Southeast Asia kill the small armored animal to feed a market in China and Vietnam, where it is used as an ingredient in Chinese medicine.

It's scales are also used in the production of shabu-shabu—the local name for low-grade methamphetamine, according to PrFauna Indonesia.

"This practice is utterly cruel because the scales are sloughed through a boiling process, sometimes when the animal is still alive," the organization wrote on its website.

Malaysia is not alone in the fight against pangolin trafficking. In 2015, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Indonesian authorities confiscated some 4,000 pangolins packed into a freezer and bound for Vietnam. That was only Indonesia's second-largest bust. In 2008, authorities found 14 tons of frozen pangolins waiting for export in Palembang, South Sumatra.

The pangolin is considered the world's most-trafficked animal, with all eight species listed as vulnerable or critically endangered, according to the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. Experts believe pangolins make up 20 percent of the global illegal animal trade. The animals are commonly hunted as bushmeat in Africa, and trafficked to China, where the meat is considered a delicacy.

Sadly, it's a problem with little signs of a solution, said Rosek Nursahid of ProFauna Indonesia.

"People are not interested in supporting pangolin conservation," Rosek told the local media. "It's not fair but it's a fact."