Singapore announced on Monday its largest ever seizure of 9 tonnes of ivory from 300 elephants and almost 11.9 tonnes of pangolin scales from up to 33,000 pangolins found in three containers disguised as timber on its way from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Vietnam.
China Customs shared intelligence with Singapore's Customs Authority and its National Parks Board that helped lead to this seizure. Officials from the joint-operation estimate the total worth of the contraband is US$48.6 million.
According to initial investigations of the syndicate in question, China Customs noted they have been active in smuggling ivory, pangolin, and other endangered species from African nations through transit countries into China and neighboring countries. This investigation is still underway. A day earlier, China Customs also assisted in arresting a syndicate of 12 individuals involved in smuggling ivory and other products.
“WildAid commends China for strengthening international cooperation to stop wildlife smuggling since shipments are increasingly flowing from Africa through transit hubs, like Hong Kong SAR and Singapore,” said WildAid CEO Peter Knights. “It's encouraging that some of the major syndicates behind this catastrophic and illegal trade are being stopped.”
Over the past several years, seizures of scales and whole pangolins, both live and frozen, have increased. With this seizure, Singapore has seized a total of 37.5 tonnes of pangolin scales just since April of this year. “The sheer size of recent seizures suggests that African pangolins may be heading very quickly towards extinction,”said Knights. “They reproduce very slowly, and the demand pressure that decimated Asian pangolins is now devastating Africa's pangolins at an industrial scale.”
Although Vietnam revised its penal code in 2018 to cover a wide range of crimes, including trafficking in wildlife products, authorities have been slow to implement these stronger new regulations. China’s cooperation with Interpol and customs agencies from other countries has led to multiple prosecutions of smuggling rings as well as record-breaking seizures. These efforts have assisted Singapore, Vietnam, and Hong Kong SAR to intercept 11 tons of ivory, 59.8 tons of pangolin scales, and 90.5 kg of rhino horn this year alone.
In 2019, China Customs has prosecuted 374 cases of wildlife smuggling, of which 133 involved ivory. This has brought down 38 smuggling syndicates. Seizures within China this year have involved 11.28 tons of endangered wildlife products including 9.05 tons of ivory and 251 kg of rhino horn.
WildAid has been working with authorities in both China and Vietnam since 2016 to help reduce demand for these illegal wildlife products. This year WildAid, WWF, China CITES and China Customs launched a massive joint campaign warning travelers that it’s illegal to buy ivory and bring it back into China with over 3,200 campaign billboards and posters placed at 147 border crossings in 42 cities. Earlier this year in Vietnam, WildAid and local NGO CHANGE joined with several prominent Buddhist temples, urging Vietnamese citizens to make an auspicious start to their lunar new year by protecting rhinos, pangolins, and elephants in a campaign called, “Be Their Bodhisattva,” or, be their savior.