4 min read

People Can't Believe What They Found Inside This Shipping Container

This has got to stop.

Last week, two shipping containers arrived in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, marked as carrying “logs” from the Congo. But when customs officials inspected the containers, they discovered the shocking truth — inside were 107 sacks holding 3.8 tons of pangolin scales.

This was the largest shipment of animal parts ever to be seized in Vietnam. But things quickly got worse. Less than a week later, customs officials inspected two more shipping containers supposedly carrying “cashews,” and found a further 3.3 tons of pangolin scales.

Customs officials with seizure of pangolin scales
Customs officials with the seizure of 3.8 tons of pangolin scales | Facebook/Traffic Southeast Asia

Together, these shipments held over 7.1 tons of pangolin scales from countless thousands of animals.

Pangolins are shy animals whose tiny bodies are covered in scales. Unfortunately, these scales are highly desirable in traditional Chinese medicine, despite there being no scientific evidence that shows the scales have healing properties. Like rhino horns, which are also trafficked for Asian medicine, pangolin scales are simply made out of keratin, which is the same protein found in human hair and fingernails.

Bags containing pangolin scales
After the first bust, customs officials found another shipment of 3.3 tons of pangolin scales. | Facebook/Traffic Southeast Asia

As a result, pangolins are now the most highly trafficked animals in the world, despite many people not even knowing what they look like. Several of the eight pangolin species, including the Chinese pangolin and the Sunda pangolin, are now on the brink of extinction.

In many cases, traffickers simply kill the animals and take their scales. In other instances, they transport the animals while they’re still alive. When pangolins are frightened, they curl up in tight little balls, which is often how rescuers find them.

Customs officials with confiscated pangolin scales
Officials sorting through the 3.3 tons of pangolin scales they discovered | Facebook/Traffic Southeast Asia

At the moment, it’s not clear if the two recent seizures in Vietnam are related, or how customs officials figured out that the four shipping containers held illegal animal parts. Yet Richard Thomas, global communications coordinator for TRAFFIC, an international wildlife monitoring network, is hoping these details will emerge.

“Understanding and getting as full a picture [as possible] of the trafficking activities is critical if they are to be stopped,” Thomas told The Dodo. “Clearly, some customs agencies are very much aware of this trafficking and up to the task of detecting and stopping it. But we need agencies worldwide to be completely behind the international efforts to put an end to wildlife crime.”

To help protect pangolins by monitoring the illegal wildlife trade, you can make a donation to TRAFFIC.