Malaysian authorities have seized a record 30 tons of pangolin and pangolin products in the eastern Sabah state of Borneo, the biggest bust of its kind in the country, a wildlife monitoring group said on Tuesday.
The monitoring network Traffic said in a statement that Sabah police this month uncovered two major pangolin processing facilities, throwing a spotlight on Sabah’s role in the sourcing and trafficking of the endangered scaly mammal.
Sabah police said over the weekend they had seized three refrigerated containers containing 1,800 boxes filled with frozen pangolins, another 572 frozen pangolins in separate freezers, 61 live pangolins and 361kg of pangolin scales. Two bear paws and the carcasses of four flying fox were also recovered. A 35-year-old Malaysian man, believed to be a factory manager, has been detained.
The pangolin is said to be the most widely trafficked mammal in the world, and its scales are in high demand in Asia for use in traditional Chinese medicine. The scales are made of keratin, the same material as human fingernails. Their meat is also considered a delicacy in China and other Asian countries.
Sabah police chief Omar Mammah said in the statement that initial investigations showed the facility has operated for seven years and that the suspect had bought the pangolins from local illegal hunters for distribution locally and to the neighbouring state of Sarawak. He estimated the haul to be worth at least 8.4 million ringgit.
Traffic said the whole pangolin bodies found frozen and boxed were likely to have been sold for meat consumption.
“Including this bust, Sabah has been implicated in over 40 tons of pangolin smuggling since August 2017, including 13 tons of African pangolin scales,” it said.
It said the seizures came a decade after Sabah authorities discovered logbooks in 2009 kept by another pangolin trafficking ring. It said the logbooks revealed that about 22,200 pangolins were killed and 834.4kg of pangolin scales sourced throughout the state and supplied to the syndicate over 13 months.