Hong Kong seizes record haul of pangolin scales from Nigeria

Ivory tusks and pangolin scales seized by Hong Kong Customs are displayed at a news conference in Hong Kong China

Ivory tusks and pangolin scales seized by Hong Kong Customs are displayed at a news conference in Hong Kong China

In a separate incident, customs officials in the northern Vietnamese port of Hai Phong discovered another 1.4 tonnes of pangolin scales in a shipping container sent from Nigeria, the state-run Vietnam News Agency reported on Friday.

Yueng Ka-yan, head of command at Hong Kong's Customs and Excise Department, said the smugglers used a new method to hide the endangered species by a process of "solidification" where they used ice bags and frozen meat to obscure the species.

Officials estimated the value of the haul at HK$62 million (US$8 million).

Hong Kong has always been considered a hub for illicit wildlife trade due to its busy port and status of a gateway into mainland china.

In a landmark report analyzing seizures and convictions, conservationists said the southern Chinese financial hub played a "disproportionate" role in wildlife crime - accounting for around a fifth of all global ivory seizures and almost half of all pangolins seized in the last decade.

ADM Capital Foundation, which focuses on environmental challenges across Asia, wrote in a January report that wildlife trafficking should be incorporated under Hong Kong's Organised and Serious Crime Ordinance (OSCO).

Historically the few who are caught have rarely face stiff penalties.

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They have previously been smuggled into countries from Africa in huge quantities, with the pangolin thought to be the world's most trafficked mammal.

The scales, which are made from nothing more than keratin, the same material that makes up human fingernails and hair, are sought after for their unproven medicinal properties.

Zhan Li, director of the Anti-Smuggling Bureau of Guangdong Customs, said the crackdown on the major smuggling case demonstrates the determination and abilities of customs officers from the mainland and Hong Kong in the fight against smuggling cases involving endangered animals and their parts and products. International trade of the scales and ivory is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Last year, Chinese authorities, in cooperation with police from Kenya and Nigeria, successfully extradited three ivory smuggling suspects from Africa.

But demand is still fueled by a thriving black market.

A customs officer stands in front of sacks of seized endangered pangolin scales displayed next to ivory elephant tusks (left) during a press conference at the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound in Hong Kong.

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