The Indonesian National Police’s Criminal Investigation Division (BARESKRIM MABES POLRI), the Government of Indonesia, and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Wildlife Crimes Unit (WCU) today announced the seizure of a shipment of pangolins headed to China and valued at approximately 1.8 million US dollars (USD). The pangolin smuggler involved in the case has been arrested.
This is the largest case of pangolin smuggling in Indonesia since 2008 when the Indonesian National Police, supported by WCS’s WCU, arrested two smugglers and confiscated 13.8 tons of frozen pangolins in Palembang.
The seizure took place on April 23, 2015, at the Belawan seaport in Medan, the largest city on the island of Sumatra. Belawan Seaport is notorious for being an import and exit point for illegal wildlife trafficking. The haul included 5 tons of frozen pangolins, 77 kilograms of pangolin scales, and 96 live pangolins. A smuggler, identified by the initials SHB, has been arrested in the case. SHB allegedly dealt and exported pangolins that he ordered from local dealers in Aceh and north Sumatra. Under Indonesian law, trafficking of pangolins, their parts and by-products is punishable by a maximum penalty of five years of imprisonment and a maximum fine of USD $10,000.
In recent years, the price of pangolin has increased sharply in the international market, driven by demand from China. Based on current black market prices, the value of the seized shipment is 1.826 million USD. Pangolin scales (considered to have healing qualities by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners) are valued at USD $3,000 per kg, pangolin meat (considered a delicacy) at USD $300 per kg, and live pangolins at USD $992. Smugglers also ship pangolin innards, including fetuses, for traditional medicinal purposes.
Based upon evidence gathered during the arrest, the shipment was headed to China. In order to avoid police and customs detection, the suspect had exported the shipping container that held the pangolin cargo from a secondary port to a cargo ferry offshore, where it was obscured among other containers. The cargo ferry then docked at Belawan port where the container was to be transferred to a vessel destined for China via Haiphong Seaport in Vietnam. The exporter also shipped live pangolins to Penang, Malaysia through a remote seaport in Medan.
There are eight species of pangolins (Family: Manidae) still in existence worldwide. Four of the species are of Asian origin including the Sundanese Pangolin (Manis javanicus), which is listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The pangolin's large scales are made of keratin, the same material as fingernails and rhino horns, and account for 20% of its weight.
Deputy Director Tipidter, CID of the Indonesian National Police, Police Senior Commissioner Didid Widjanardi said, “Pangolins are protected under Indonesian law. The Indonesian National Police and WCS’s WCU have done a great job in tackling pangolin smuggling since 2008. We will continue our collaboration in the future through preventive actions, which is important to saving pangolins in their habitat.”
WCS Executive Director for Asia Programs Joe Walston said, “This is a major breakthrough, both in terms of the enormous size of the shipment and in terms of the increasing sophistication of collaborative methods used by Indonesian authorities in making the bust. WCS is committed to supporting the Government of Indonesia in dismantling this insidious illegal trade.”
WCS’s Wildlife Crimes Unit is supported by the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation, Fondation Segré, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Multinational Species Conservation Funds, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.