What do you do when you’re smuggling 22,000 pounds of an endangered species on your boat? Answer: crash into a protected coral reef in the Philippines. Last Monday a Chinese vessel slammed into a coral reef in the Tubbataha National Marine Park; on Saturday the Filipino coastguard discovered 400 boxes of pangolin meat while inspecting the ship. Pangolins, which are scaly insect-eating mammals, have been decimated by the illegal wildlife trade as their scales are prized in Chinese Traditional Medicine, their meat is commonly eaten, and a soup made with pangolin fetus is considered a delicacy.
“It is bad enough that the Chinese have illegally entered our seas, navigated without boat papers and crashed recklessly into a national marine park and World Heritage Site,” Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, head of WWF-Philippines, told the Associated Press. “It is simply deplorable that they appear to be posing as fishermen to trade in illegal wildlife.”
Filipino authorities have detained the twelve “fishermen” running the boat. They could face a dozen years in prison and fines up to $300,000 for the poaching, however wildlife criminals are rarely sentenced to the full extent of the law.
Although little known compared to elephants, rhinos, and big cats, pangolins are thought to be the most illegally traded animal on Earth. Of the four species found in Asia, two are listed as Endangered and two are listed as Near Threatened. Experts fear that the trade may now be widening to pangolin species in Africa as well. There is no scientific evidence that pangolin scales have any medicinal properties, but that hasn’t stopped these shy, nocturnal, and harmless animals from vanishing from Asian forests.
A live pangolin confiscated in Sumatra from a smuggler. Unfortunately the pangolins found aboard the ship were already dead. Photo by: Jefri Tarigan.
(02/11/2013) Last year tens-of-thousands of elephants and hundreds of rhinos were butchered to feed the growing appetite of the illegal wildlife trade. This black market, largely centered in East Asia, also devoured tigers, sharks, leopards, turtles, snakes, and hundreds of other animals. Estimated at $19 billion annually, the booming trade has periodically captured global media attention, even receiving a high-profile speech by U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, last year. But the biggest mammal victim of the wildlife trade is not elephants, rhinos, or tigers, but an animal that receives little notice and even less press: the pangolin. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, you’re not alone.
(09/25/2012) Scaly, insect-devouring, nocturnal, and notoriously shy, pangolins are strange mammals who remain unknown to many. But they are facing a major crisis as they are stolen from the wild in East Asia to serve as meat or traditional medicine. In Asia, two of the four species are now listed as Endangered due largely to poaching. Now, a new expert group through the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) aims to work toward better research and conservation of the world’s imperiled pangolins, starting with launching a new website, PangolinSG.
(08/06/2012) Earlier this summer, 110 Sunda pangolins (Manis javanica) were rescued by Thai customs officials from poachers in a pickup truck. While the driver of the vehicle escaped, a passenger was arrested, but released after paying a fine of $75,000, reports the NGO FREELAND Foundation.
(01/24/2012) You can buy pretty much anything on the internet: from Rugby team garden gnomes to Mickey Mouse lingerie. In some places, consumers have even been able to purchase illegal wildlife parts, such as ivory and rhino horn. In fact, the internet has opened up the black market wildlife trade contributing to the destruction of biodiversity worldwide. Pangolins, shy, scaly, anteater-like animals in appearance, have not been immune: in Asia the small animals are killed en masse to feed rising demand for Chinese traditional medicine, placing a number of species on the endangered list.
(10/28/2010) Notebooks confiscated by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) reveal that 22,000 Sunda pangolins (Manis javanica) were illegally poached from May 2007 to January 2009 in the Malaysian state in northern Borneo. The number, in fact, may be significantly higher since the logbooks didn’t cover over a third of the time period. The logbooks were analyzed by TRAFFIC, an organization devoted to combating the illegal trade in wildlife.
(07/14/2010) Boarding a suspect fishing vessel in the early morning of June 6th, Chinese customs officials discovered 2,090 frozen pangolins and 92 cases of pangolin scales, weighing an astounding 3,960 pounds. Manned by five Chinese and one Malaysian national, the boat was awaiting instructions via satellite phone as to where to meet another ship to transfer the illegal cargo while still at sea.