Written by Lim Jin Jie

Singapore hit the record books again

Well, quite unexpectedly. In a joint operation staged by Singapore Customs and the National Parks Board (NParks), 12.9 tonnes (12,900 kg) of pangolin scales were seized at Pasir Panjang Export Inspection Station last Wednesday (3 Apr). The Vietnam-bound shipment, worth $52.3 million, is the world’s largest  shipment seized in a single haul.

The Nigeria-based scales were packed in 230 bags, hidden behind packets of frozen beef inside a 40 feet shipping container. The scales are estimated to have come from 17,000 pangolins. Other than the scales, elephant ivory worth $120,000 were also seized during the inspection.


What’s so special about pangolin scales?

Frankly, nothing special. Well, unless you find your hair and nails equally exotic – pangolin scales are also made from keratin. Yet, the pangolin still remains as the world’s most trafficked mammal, with more than one million pangolins poached in the past decade for their scales and meat. This is partly because people believe in the medicinal benefits of the scales, especially in traditional Chinese medicine. While there is no scientific proof that it cures diseases, poachers continue to kill pangolins in order to extract the scales, which are deeply embedded in the pangolin’s body. Pangolin meat is also considered a delicacy in some countries.

Out of the eight species of pangolin, four are listed as vulnerable, two as endangered, and another two as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. One of the critically endangered species is the Sunda Pangolin, which is native to Singapore. Singapore has done its part by launching the National Conservation Strategy and Action Plan last year to help protect the Sunda Pangolins in Singapore. Protecting the other species, however, would require international cooperation to put to an end the indiscriminate killing of the endangered animals.

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