Singapore Makes Huge Wildlife Bust

On Tuesday, the government of Singapore announced it had seized nearly $50 million in ivory tusks and pangolin scales (a record for the nation) found in shipping containers from the Democratic Republic of Congo that supposedly contained timber but instead were filled with 12 tons of pangolin scales and nearly 9 tons of ivory.  The illegal wildlife parts were bound for Vietnam, but will now be destroyed so that they will not re-enter the market, the Singapore government announced.

Why This Matters:  This was a massive seizure — the third major seizure of pangolin scales in Singapore this year, and the second-largest seizure of elephant ivory ever.  The ivory came from an estimated 300 elephants, and the scales came from an estimated 2,000 pangolins, according to Reuters.  Given how close these animals are too extinction, it is alarming, but at least the illegal wildlife contraband has been destroyed.  Experts believe that organized crime rings were behind this foiled effort to smuggle the items through Singapore — a place where pre-1990 (before the ban on sales) ivory can still be sold legally.  Fighting international organized criminal networks that traffic in illegal wildlife parts should be a higher priority given the extinction crisis described in a recent United Nations Report. 

Elephant Ivory Still In Demand

CNN reported that Singapore had seized 390 pounds of ivory already this year.  Poachers in Africa still kill tens of thousands of elephants in Africa.  “Around 55 African elephants are killed for their ivory a day, their tusks turned into carvings and trinkets,” Tanya Steele, chief executive at World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement.  In China, ivory is still seen by some as a status symbol, but the government is trying to crack down on illegal trafficking — the tip for this seizure reportedly came from Chinese officials to the Singapore government.

Pangolins In Trouble

The pangolin is one of the most trafficked mammals in the world for Its meat, which in Vietnam and China is a delicacy, and because its scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine, though the benefits are disputed by medical scientists.  But the U.S. market for cowboy boots and leather belts may have also contributed to their decline.  National Geographic reported this week on a new study in Conservation Science and Practice, that prior to the year 2000, the United States was a major importer of pangolin skins. The study also pointed out that some mislabelled leather items for sale currently on eBay were actually pangolin as well.

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