Thousands of pangolins among illegal Asian animal shipments

CISARUA, West Java ~ Thousands of pangolins are being illegally shipped from Southeast Asia to China, police warned, as a meeting to crack down on wildlife smuggling was underway here this week.

“Currently the most popular species are pangolins and star tortoises,” Thai police Lieutenant Colonel Thanayod Kengkasikij said.

The scaly anteaters were being transported to China for use in traditional medicines, said William Schaedla from the Wildlife Alliance.

“We have intelligence that as much as a ton of the animals are being taken across the Thailand-Laos border alone every month at certain times,” he said on the sidelines of the conference.

WWF’s Chairul Saleh said the mammals were being smuggled in false floors in containers as well being hidden under legal cargo such as sacks of rice.

“The biggest demand comes from China. They don’t only want the scales but also the meat for consumption,” said Saleh from WWF’s Indonesia office.

The comments came as wildlife officials from Southeast Asia met in Cisarua outside Jakarta in an attempt to build stronger links to stop cross-border trafficking in some of the richest and most spectacular wildlife in the world.

After informal talks Monday, the conference started on Tuesday with officials from the 10 ASEAN nations set to be briefed by law-enforcement officials on the latest trafficking trends and intelligence.

Thanayod said increased law-enforcement seizures of animals had hiked up their price and demand, making the business more appealing to criminals.

“The increasing value (of the animals) is attracting more criminals,” he said on the sidelines of the closed four-day conference.

“We’re looking for a better relationship between neighboring countries and to assist each other in sharing information, so we can reduce the amount of animal trafficking,” said Thanayod from the Thai police’s natural resources and environmental crime division.

“The biggest problem is international trade between borders with neighboring countries.”

He added that Thailand was a hub for trafficking of a range of animals, while environmentalists pointed to Malaysia as a major transit point and Vietnam as a smuggling gateway to southern China.

Traffickers appeared to have strong links in Southeast Asia enabling their smuggled animals to be added to an already illegal shipment as it crossed borders in the region, said Schaedla from the Wildlife Alliance.

“There’s probably an accumulation process going on – part of the shipment may originate from Indonesia and as they move up the peninsula, animals are added to it,” said Schaedla.

“All of Southeast Asia is involved in this transshipment process in one way or another,” he said.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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