Singapore seizes record $48.6 million shipment of elephant ivory and pangolin scales

5 people dead after elephant attacks in India
Posted at 1:35 PM, Jul 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-24 13:35:34-04

Authorities in Singapore have seized a record 8.8 metric tons of ivory that is believed to have come from nearly 300 African elephants.

The ivory, estimated to be worth $12.9 million, was found Sunday in sacks in one of three containers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo that were said to be carrying timber. It's the largest seizure of elephant ivory in Singapore to date, according to the National Parks Board, a statutory board of the island city-state's government.

The African elephant, poached for its ivory tusks, is currently listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

The shipment also contained 11.9 metric tons of pangolin scales, believed to have belonged to nearly 2,000 giant pangolins. The scales, estimated to be worth $35.7 million, were packed into 237 bags. It's the third major seizure of pangolin scales in Singapore this year, with a total of 37.5 metric tons impounded since April, according to the National Parks Board.

The pangolin, which resembles an anteater apart from its hard, plate-like keratin scales, is believed to be the most illegally trafficked wild mammal in the world.

The illegal cargo was bound for Vietnam when Singaporean authorities intercepted it, following a tip from Chinese customs officials.

Under Singapore's Endangered Species Act, the maximum penalty for illegal import, export and re-export of wildlife is a fine of up to $500,000 and/or two years behind bars.

"The Singapore Government adopts a zero-tolerance stance on the use of Singapore as a conduit to smuggle endangered species and their parts and derivatives," the National Parks Board said in a statement Monday. "Our agencies will continue to collaborate and maintain vigilance to tackle the illegal wildlife trade."

Since 2014, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified all eight pangolin species as "threatened with extinction," with two now listed as "critically endangered." The distinctive yet docile and reclusive creature is being poached into extinction amid an unyielding demand in China and Vietnam for pangolin meat and scales.

With pangolin populations rapidly decreasing, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species banned international trade for all eight species in 2016.