Massive quantities of illegal pangolin meat was found aboard a Chinese boat this weekend, according to Coast Guard officials. Pangolins, commonly referred to as scaly anteaters, are a protected species often targeted by poachers.
An international ban against pangolin trading has been in place since 2002. However, poachers continue to kill the animals to meet black market demand. In China, meat from the small mammal is considered a delicacy, and its keratin-based scales are believed by some to carry medicinal value.
More than 22,000 pounds of frozen pangolin meat, packed into 400 crates, was discovered Saturday during an inspection of the Chinese boat “F/N Min Long Yu”.
On April 8, the steel-hulled boat collided with a protected coral reef at Tubbataha National Marine Park, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site in the Philippines.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines, the crates could contain upwards of 2,000 dead pangolins, which are fairly small in stature. According to Coast Guard officials, the creatures’ signature scales had been removed prior to packing.
Officials have not yet determined which of the four Asian species of pangolin the poachers were transporting. Two of the species are listed by The International Union of Conservation of Nature as threatened. Two additional Asian species, the Sunda and Chinese pangolins, are considered endangered.
Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, chief executive officer of the World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines, expressed outrage following Saturday’s gruesome discovery:
“It is bad enough that the Chinese have illegally entered our seas, navigated without boat papers and crashed recklessly into a national marine park and World Heritage Site,” he fumed. “It is simply deplorable that they appear to be posing as fishermen to trade in illegal wildlife.”
According to Adelina Villena, a lawyer for Tubbataha National Marine Park, 12 crew members from the “F/N Min Long Yu” are currently being held on poaching and attempted bribery charges. Additional charges relating to the damaged coral reef and possession of illegal pangolin meat are expected to follow shortly.
The poaching charge alone could reportedly land the crew members behind bars for up to 12 years. Charges stemming from possession of the frozen pangolin meat could result in imprisonment for up to six years. In additional to jail time, both charges carry substantial fines.
Saturday’s pangolin discovery is considered one of the most substantial global seizures of its kind. It also marks a disheartening future for the species. According to Chris Shepherd, an expert with Malaysia’s wildlife trade group Traffic, enforcement of laws to protect the pangolins are falling behind a growing demand for illegal trade.
“There is no way a slow-breeding species like the pangolin can withstand this huge pressure for long.” he explained. We have seen a really obscene amount of seizures but very few people are arrested and even fewer convicted.”
[Top and bottom images via Wikipedia]