Seized notebooks give unique insight into scale of illicit pangolin trade

Posted on October, 28 2010

 Stunning figures in traffickers’ logbooks indicate massive illegal capture and trade in endangered pangolins or scaly anteaters, finds a new TRAFFIC study.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 28th October 2010 - Stunning figures in traffickers’ logbooks indicate massive illegal capture and trade in endangered pangolins or scaly anteaters, finds a new TRAFFIC study.

A Preliminary Assessment of Pangolin Trade in Sabah analyses logbooks seized following a raid by Sabah Wildlife Department in 2009 on a syndicate’s pangolin trafficking premises in Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of the Malaysian State of Sabah in north Borneo.

The logbooks reveal that 22 200 pangolins were killed and 834.4 kg of pangolin scales were supplied to the syndicate between May 2007 and January 2009.

The Sabah Wildlife Department granted TRAFFIC access to the logbooks, which detail the volume, weight, source and prices of pangolins purchased by the syndicate during the 14 month period.

“TRAFFIC is grateful to the Wildlife Department for allowing us access to this information,” said Noorainie Awang Anak, Senior Programme Officer with TRAFFIC Southeast Asia and an author of the report.

“The detailed record-taking by this criminal syndicate has given us a unique insight into the volumes of endangered pangolins being illegally traded in the region.”

However, as Awang points out, the numbers could be even higher: no logbooks were recovered for the period August 2007 to February 2008 or for June 2008. Whether this is because the books were missing or because there was no smuggling during the period is not known.

The Sabah Wildlife Department and other enforcement agencies in the State have focused enforcement efforts on weeding out pangolin smugglers, resulting in successful prosecutions in all 19 pangolin-related seizures carried out between 2002 and 2008.

The biggest case involved the seizure of a container lorry carrying a hundred polystyrene boxes filled with 530 frozen pangolins meant for export. The two men arrested in this case were each sentenced to a fine of RM9,000 and six months jail.

The Sunda Pangolin, found in much of South-East Asia, is considered Endangered and the species is protected under Malaysian law. No international trade in any Asian pangolin species is permitted under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

Despite this, pangolins are widely hunted and trafficked for their alleged medicinal properties. They are among the most commonly encountered mammals in Asia’s wildlife trade and alarming numbers have been seized throughout East and Southeast Asia in recent years. In 2008, Customs in Viet Nam seized a staggering 23 tonnes of frozen pangolins in a single week. Most trade is believed to be destined for China.

The report also presents the results of a survey of pangolin hunters interviewed on the west coast of Sabah. Hunters reported that high prices offered by middlemen was the main driver for the collection of pangolins, and this in turn was caused by the increasing difficulty in finding pangolins in the wild.

All but one of the 13 hunters interviewed said they believed the pangolin was headed towards extinction. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, numbers of wild Sunda Pangolins have halved in the past 15 years.

“The pangolin smuggling crisis can only be addressed through improved law enforcement and better information on the criminal syndicates behind the trade,” said Awang.

“Anyone with information on those behind these crimes against Malayasia’s natural heritage should pass it on to the relevant authorities for action.

Sunda Pangolin.
Sunda Pangolin.
© Stephen Hogg / WWF Malaysia
Pangolin trade map.
Pangolin trade map.
© Sandrine Pantel