30,000kg of critically-endangered pangolins & scales seized in Sabah, Malaysia

Largest seizure in Malaysia so far.

Zhangxin Zheng | February 13, 04:41 pm


Pangolins are endangered animals.

However, they are still one of the most trafficked mammals as they are highly sought after for food and the pet trade.

According to Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring network, on Feb. 11, a syndicate deal of almost 30 tonnes (30, 000kg) of pangolins was busted in Sabah, Malaysia, over the weekend.

This is likely the largest seizure in Malaysia ever.

The seizure

A team from the Sabah Wildlife Department and the police raided a factory at Kota Kinabalu and a nearby warehouse to discover the loot after receiving a tip-off.

The authorities were led by a 35-year-old Malaysian, allegedly the manager of the factory, who was arrested.

Photo from IPD Kota Kinabalu, via Traffic website.

Thousands of frozen pangolins, live pangolins, pangolin scales as well as bear paws and dead flying foxes were found, according to Traffic.

The haul included about 1,800 boxes full of frozen pangolins stuffed inside three refrigerated containers, 572 more frozen pangolins in six freezers, 61 live pangolins in cages and in a car boot and 361 kg of pangolin scales.

Two bear paws and carcasses of four flying fox were also recovered.

These frozen pangolins are likely sold for consumption.

Photo from IPD Kota Kinabalu, via Traffic website.

Like this.

*Graphic warning*

Photo from Traffic.


Pangolin scales are thought to have medicinal benefits but they are actually made of keratin which is the same material as human fingernails.

Photo from Traffic website.

The raid also found evidence that the dealers are experienced.

Besides the wildlife, the enforcers also found packaging materials and equipment such as digital weighing scales, thousands of plastic packaging and cardboard cartons.

The factory has been operating for at least seven years and the pangolins were likely bought from illegal hunters to distribute locally and to the neighbouring state of Sarawak.

Protected species

This seizure showed that illegal poaching of pangolins is still rampant despite upgrading the protection status of this species to the highest level in 2016.

Offenders caught hunting, consuming and selling pangolins will face the maximum penalty under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

However, detecting pangolin smuggling is tricky due to pangolins’ elusive and shy nature.

Comprehensive investigations into this seizure can potentially crack down on the syndicate and larger networks operation, according to Kanitha Krishnasamy, Traffic’s Director in Southeast Asia.

“Detecting large volumes of pangolin smuggling is no easy feat and Sabah authorities are congratulated for pursuing and taking down this smuggling operation.”

“It is hoped that comprehensive investigations can lead to unmasking the syndicate and networks operating from the state and beyond.”

Top photo collage by IPD Kota Kinabalu, via Traffic website and by Siew Te Wong via WWF Heart of Borneo Facebook


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About Zhangxin Zheng

Zhangxin’s favourite pastime is singing Mulan’s soundtrack in the mangrove forests. She hopes to perfect the art of napping in a hammock in the mangroves without being drowned by rising sea levels.

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