BY CHRISTOPHER BRITO
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."
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.
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.