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Five tons of frozen pangolin, 77 kilograms (169 pounds) of pangolin scales, and 96 live pangolins: that’s the grisly haul of the latest pangolin bust in Indonesia.

frozen pangolins
Frozen, dead Sunda pangolins confiscated by the Indonesian National Police’s Criminal Investigation Division in Medan, Sumatra. © Paul Hilton for WCS.

Officials confiscated the illegal wildlife goods in Medan, Sumatra and busted the smuggler, who has only been identified as SHB. This is the largest pangolin bust in Indonesia since 2008.

“This is a major breakthrough, both in terms of the enormous size of the shipment and in terms of the increasing sophistication of collaborative methods used by Indonesian authorities in making the bust,” said Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Executive Director for Asia Programs, Joe Walston. WCS assisted in the investigation through its Wildlife Crimes Unit.

Poached pangolins in a freezer
Poached pangolins in a freezer. Sunda pangolins are on the edge of extinction. © Paul Hilton for WCS

Officials say the pangolins were poached on Sumatra and were destined for China. In all the haul was worth an estimated US$1.8 million.

live pangolin
A live pangolin stares out from the poultry cage it had been locked in while an Indonesian law enforcement agent looks over. © Paul Hilton for WCS.

The smuggler faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and maximum fine of US$10,000.

The pangolin in question is the Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica), which is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Little-known to the general public, pangolins have the terrible honour of being the world’s most trafficked animal. Their scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine, their meat is considered a curative in East Asia and even their fetuses are eaten.

Pangolin scales
Pangolin scales from the recent confiscation. © Paul Hilton for WCS

Of the four species found in Asia, all are now considered either Endangered or Critically Endangered. As these species are wiped out, trafficking is now increasing on the other four species of pangolin found in Africa.

Read more about the threats pangolins face in the Africa Geographic magazine here.


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