Saddest Thing Found In Massive Containers At Airport Terminal

It had been listed as “charcoal.”

A discovery at an airport in Hong Kong on Tuesday shows just how rapidly a population of critically endangered animals is being decimated.

In one of the largest busts ever of its kind, customs officials found over 15,400 pounds of pangolin scales in large containers shipped from Africa on their way to China, where the scales are falsely believed to be a sort of cure-all in traditional medicine.

The shipment, which originated in Nigeria, was listed as charcoal.

“A shipment of this size represents the loss of thousands of wild pangolins,” Vicky Flynn, head of communications for the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF), told The Dodo.

Native to parts of Africa and Asia, the shy, nocturnal animals are the most trafficked mammal on the planet. They are known to curl up into tight little balls when they’re scared. And roughly every five minutes, a wild pangolin is captured to be shipped, sold and killed in East Asia.

Sometimes the animals are shipped while still alive and traffickers inject them with water or force-feed them corn powder to make them weigh more, so they sell for more. Other times, the animals are slaughtered beforehand and their scales are shipped, as in this case.

Officials are still conducting an investigation into the discovery of the scales, which is estimated to be worth over $590,000. No one knows exactly how many pangolins were killed for this shipment, but for a species on the brink of extinction, the loss of life is devastating.

Even though the shipment of pangolins and pangolin scales has been internationally banned, the black market trade is still running rampant, as this latest seizure shows.

“The key now is to enforce the law and to raise awareness among rural communities so that they understand the importance of protecting pangolins and that criminal actions will be enforced if they don’t,” Flynn said. “Without immediate action, pangolins could be lost within our lifetime.”

To help pangolins, you can make a donation to Save Vietnam's Wildlife, a rescue organization that rehabilitates pangolins saved from the wildlife trade.