An anti-smuggling operation off the coast of Sumatra has successfully rescued 101 live pangolins on a fishing boat.
Photo by Kyle de Nobrega
Two men, 22 and 25 years old, were arrested after they were caught trying to smuggle the pangolins to Malaysia. The two confessed to having been paid to smuggle the critically endangered animals. According to a press release by the Indonesian Navy, members of the community tipped them off to the two suspects. If the two men are found guilty, they will face a maximum of five years in prison, as well as a fine of Rp 100 million (about $7,300). The entire shipment of the endangered animals was worth around $25,000 wholesale, but can be worth up to $1.5 million on the international market.
The pangolins were retrieved alive from the fishing boat they were about to be smuggled in, but unfortunately, four of the pangolins later died. However, the remaining ones are set to be released into an Indonesian national park.
A rescued pangolin in a cage
Unfortunately, even though the rescued pangolins are to be set free, there is no guarantee that they won’t be captured by poachers again. After all, the pangolin is said to be the most trafficked mammal in the world. It is a scaled animal, about the size of a domestic house cat, that looks like an anteater that donned medieval armor for war. Like anteaters, pangolins eat by swooping up ants and termites with their long tongues.
There are eight different pangolin species, four in Africa and four in Asia. All eight species range from vulnerable to critically endangered. Thus, all species are protected under national and international laws. However, this hasn’t stopped people from poaching pangolins, and it hasn’t done much to suppress the demand.
A rescued pangolin with an injury [Photo by Tiki Hywood Trust]
Tens of thousands of pangolins are poached every year. When a pangolin feels threatened, it curls up into a ball like an armadillo. Pangolins are the only known mammal with large keratin scales, which protect the pangolin from harm when it curls up. This is an excellent defense mechanism--against other animals, that is. However, for poachers, this mechanism makes it easier to snatch pangolins away from their habitats.
Not only are pangolins threatened by hunting and poaching, they’re threatened by deforestation and habitat loss as well. Trafficking is quickly decimating the pangolin population in Africa, while the animals are also quickly disappearing in Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia. China, meanwhile, has likely lost its pangolin population entirely.
This pangolin was successfully rehabilitated and released back into the wild. [Photo by Muhamed Shavez/1StopBrunei Wildlife]
So what are all these pangolins dying for?
Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in Vietnam and China. A dish called “pangolin fetus soup”, for example, is a delicacy believed to enhance a man’s virility. Pangolin scales are also used in traditional medicine, though they have no proven medicinal value. Even so, however, the scales of a single individual pangolin can fetch a price of up to $2,700.
As certain countries like China grow richer, and their citizens are becoming more affluent, the demand for pangolins also increases. “Anything that is really rare and exotic is desirable. It’s a symbol of wealth,” says Crawford Allan of the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC. “Anything seen to be delicacy is now in vogue.”
There isn’t an exact number of pangolins left in the wild. What we do know, however, is that their numbers are dramatically falling. Authorities in concerned countries can and are doing all they can to protect the endangered mammal, but while there is demand, there will always be trafficking and poaching.
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