3 min read

Shipping Container Said To Hold 'Metal Scraps' Was Not What It Seemed

They're the most trafficked animal on the planet.

A 40-foot shipping container that just arrived in Hong Kong from Nigeria was listed as carrying metal scraps — but it actually contained something truly heartbreaking. 

Customs officials found sacks and sacks of grayish scales — weighing over 6,000 pounds — from pangolins, a shy little animal who curls up into a ball when frightened and who is considered the most highly trafficked mammal on the planet.

Because of a superstition that they have healing powers, pangolins are stolen from their natural habitats in Asia and Africa and smuggled across borders in tiny boxes and bags. Eventually they are killed and stripped of their scales, which are used in traditional Eastern medicine. It's estimated that at least one million pangolins have been killed in the last decade

Pangolin at night

Whenever possible, officials try to confiscate the animals while they are still alive and can be rehabilitated by wildlife centers across Asia and Africa to return safely to the wild. Sadly, in this case, people were just too late. An investigation is ongoing about who is responsible for trafficking the sacks of scales, which are estimated to be worth $3.3 million on the black market. 

Even though there is an international ban on trading pangolins, it can be hard to save these lives in time. That's why people are working on decreasing the demand for pangolin products to help save the animal from extinction.

“The only way to stop the decline is through implementation of a clear strategy and unified effort to stop the demand, supply and trafficking," Dan Challender, chair of the IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group, said last year after experts convened to strategize for the future of the species. “The sheer scale of the pangolin trade is staggering, and time is of the essence."

To help save pangolins, you can make a donation to Save Vietnam's Wildlife, a rescue center that helps rehabilitate pangolins rescued from traffickers.