Ivory from hundreds of elephants found in $48M seizure

By Christopher Brito

/ CBS News

All-female squad fights wildlife poaching

Authorities in Singapore have seized about $48 million worth of elephant ivory and pangolin scales over the weekend. The country's National Parks Board, known as NParks, made the announcement Tuesday after discovering the illegal cargo, which originated from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and was heading toward Vietnam.

After receiving a tip from the Chinese customs department, NParks said their organization and the Singapore Customs and Immigration & Checkpoints Authority teamed up to inspect three shipping containers that supposedly contained timber. Instead, authorities uncovered about 12 tons of pangolin scales and nearly 9 tons of ivory packaged in hundreds of bags.

"These latest seizures are testament to Singapore's commitment to the global effort to stem illegal trade in CITES-listed species, including their parts and derivatives," the National Parks Board said. "The seized pangolin scales and elephant ivory will be destroyed to prevent them from re-entering the market."

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Over the weekend, NParks, working with Singapore Customs and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, and with cooperation from the General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China, seized 11.9 tonnes of pangolin scales and 8.8 tonnes of elephant ivory. These are believed to have come from close to 2,000 Giant Pangolins and nearly 300 African Elephants. ☹️ The loss of these pangolins serve a demand that has no scientific basis, as the scales of these gentle ant-eaters are made of keratin, the same materials as our skin and hair. Similarly, elephant tusks are elongated incisors no different from our teeth. Yet their ivory is sought after for use in ornaments, jewellery, and traditional medicine. The loss of these Giant Pangolins and African Elephants, which are both classified by IUCN as Vulnerable, would have an adverse impact on their native ecosystems. This is why Singapore does not condone illegal trade in CITES-listed species, including their parts and derivatives. We will continue to work with our fellow agencies to play our part in the global effort to tackle the illegal trade in wildlife. We can all help to reduce the demand by not buying wildlife parts and their products. With reduced demand, the illegal wildlife trade would be less lucrative for poachers. You may also alert NParks of any suspected cases of illegal wildlife trade via our feedback form at www.nparks.gov.sg/feedback, or call us at 1800-471-7300. Any information that you provide will be kept strictly confidential. Photo credits: Lena Han, and National Parks Board

A post shared by National Parks Board (@nparksbuzz) on

Authorities estimate the large load of ivory came from nearly 300 elephants, making it the largest such seizure ever in Singapore. It is estimated to be valued at $12.7 million, according to NParks.

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The pangolin scales — the tough exterior of an endangered anteater-like species — are worth an estimated $35.7 million, and officials believe the quantity seized is the "equivalent to close to 2,000 pangolins." Counting this haul, Singapore has seized a total of 37.5 tons of pangolin scales since April. Pangolin scales are widely used in traditional Chinese medicine, and rampant poaching has decimated the pangolin population in East and Central Africa.

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' imprisonment. The same penalties apply to transit or transhipment of wildlife or animal parts protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

"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," NParks said. "Our agencies will continue to collaborate and maintain vigilance to tackle the illegal wildlife trade."

Global trade in pangolin scales, ivory, rhino horn, protected timber and other illegally harvested goods nets between $100 and $150 billion per year, according to analysts, and that money helps fund virtually every other kind of organized crime on the planet, including terrorism.

First published on July 23, 2019 / 4:30 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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