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A Record 13 Tonnes Of Pangolin Scales Worth $54 Million Have Been Seized

An illegal shipment of 13 tonnes of pangolin scales have been discovered by Singapore authorities, representing the largest seizure of this black market product in five years.

Authorities seized approximately 17,000 pangolin scales worth $54.3 million, according to the Singapore Customs and National Parks Board, nabbing the cargo as it was en route from Nigeria to Vietnam.

The shipment -- which was declared to be 'frozen beef' -- was also carrying 177kg of elephant ivory, worth $125,000.

Pangolin scales seized by authorities in Singapore. Source: National Parks Board Singapore via Reuters.

Under Singaporean law, the maximum penalty for illegally trading wildlife parts and derivatives is $AU 52,000 per animal or plant -- to a maximum of $AU 518,000 -- and can face up to two years in prison.

Pangolin, also known as scaly anteaters, are a critically endangered species that hold the dubious title of being the most poached animal in the world.

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They are distributed naturally across Asia and Africa, and have few natural defences other than rolling their scaled bodies into a ball, a behaviour which they use against natural predators.

Pangolin numbers have significantly diminished due to extensive illegal poaching. Their meat is considered a delicacy in China and Vietnam, while their scales are used in Eastern medicine to treat a variety of ailments, including malarial fever, deafness, hysterical crying in children, and nervousness.

The pangolin has minimal defenses that they can use against poachers. Source: Getty.

Conservation experts note that Singapore is a common transit point for these black market animal products, with the city-state attempting to crack down on the trade as a signatory of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

It launched the Pangolin Specialist Group in response to the illegal trade crisis, and numerous conservation projects have been implemented globally to save the species from extinction.

Contact the author: elscott@networkten.com.au