A $1.2m (sh4.32 billion) shipment of illegal scales from the critically endangered pangolin have been uncovered in Malaysia, officials have told AFP news agency.
AFP says customs officials at Kuala Lumpur International Airport discovered 16 boxes of the smuggled scales weighing almost 400kg (880 pounds).
The shipment had come in from Ghana on a Turkish Airlines flight, adds AFP though the trail could lead back to East Africa.
In China and Vietnam pangolin meat is considered a delicacy, and their scales are deemed to have medicinal properties.
They are often cited as being the most trafficked mammal in the world – Uganda leading in illegal traffic in Africa fueled by growing demand from Asian consumers, particularly in China.
Traffickers from Kampala, usually drive from village to village in northern Uganda to get whole pangolins or scales directly from the locals. The traffickers then sell them with a bigger margin to middlemen in Kampala or directly to Chinese buyers, who are connected to corrupt agents at airports and border points who turn a blind eye to their shipment of scales.
Recently, a kilogramme of pangolin scales is worth $680 (sh2.4m) on the black market. The pangolin scales are highly demanded for medicines and making of bangles. Prices jump again once the scales reach Asia.
The scales account for about 20 percent of a pangolin’s weight.
The illegal trade of pangolins is “booming,” said Abel Ahabwe, head of investigations for the conservation network. “The problem is getting worse. One day you are coming up with one way to catch them, but they keep changing their methods.”
The Uganda Wildlife Authority said it is aware of the problem. “We are moving in the right direction, with awareness, sensitization, and we think we will be able to deal with this,” said Edgar Buhanga, its deputy director of planning. A new wildlife conservation law is being considered that will have stiffer penalties and prison sentences for traffickers.
However, Uganda’s wildlife authority itself has come under fire for corruption, notably when 1.5 tons of ivory vanished from government storerooms in 2014. Similar arrests were made through 2015 and 2016 when Police in Nwoya Districtarrested a man and his wife for allegedly being in illegal possession of two pangolins and 25 kilogrammes of pangolin scales estimated to cost Shs251m in the black market.