A total of 104 scaly anteaters, also known as pangolins, were seized late Monday from wildlife smugglers on the Mekong river, according to the Thai navy’s Lieutenant Commander Garan Minwong. “The pangolins were on their way to Laos and then finally China,” he said.
The navy’s Mekong river task force raided a boat where the live pangolins were being loaded. In addition to saving the animals, they were able to arrest two suspects.
Scaly anteaters are toothless nocturnal animals that can curl up in a ball like doodlebugs. There are eight species in the genus. All eight are decreasing in population, and the Chinese pangolin is endangered, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature redlist.
While they may seem like an unlikely target for smugglers, they’re a popular item both in Chinese cuisine and in traditional Chinese medicine.
A gruesome report in The Guardian described what happens to the animals when they reach their destinations at restaurants in China which make them into soup:
“We keep them alive in cages until the customer makes an order. Then we hammer them unconscious, cut their throats and drain the blood. It is a slow death. We then boil them to remove the scales… the customers take the blood home with them afterwards.”
Chris Shepherd, an official for an anti-smuggling group, told the National Geographic in 2009, “Pangolins, like the laws designed to protect them, lack bite.” As a result, the scaly anteaters were the most commonly smuggled mammal in Asia.
Thailand’s government may be disgusted with being treated as the world center for wildlife smuggling. Early this month, the Thai prime minister opened the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) conference by pledging to end trading in elephant ivory in that country.
Thanks to the work of the Thai navy, 104 scaly anteaters have been saved from the soup pot.
[scaly anteater species photo Valerius Tygart and Wikipedia Commons]