HONG KONG — Singapore has discovered more than 14 tons of pangolin scales in what conservation specialists called the largest such seizure of a single shipment worldwide, highlighting the stubbornness of the illegal trade of the scaly anteater.
Roughly 36,000 pangolins were believed to have been killed for the shipment, according to Paul Thomson, an official with the Pangolin Specialist Group, an organization belonging to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The group called it the biggest seizure of pangolin scales on record.
“The news of this record-shattering seizure is deeply alarming and underscores the fact that pangolins are facing a crisis,” Mr. Thomson said of the seizure, which took place last Wednesday. “If we don’t stop the illegal wildlife trade, pangolins face the risk of going extinct.”
Pangolins are believed to be the most frequently illegally trafficked mammal in the world, with an estimated 300 of them poached every day on average. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has declared all eight species as “threatened with extinction” since 2014, while two species are critically endangered.
Singaporean customs officials and the country’s national parks board said in a statement that the scales, which had been shipped from Nigeria, were headed to Vietnam, home to the second-most lucrative black market for pangolin scales, after China.
In Vietnam, many see pangolin meat as a luxury that conveys social status and health benefits, according to a survey conducted by WildAid in 2015.
In China, about 70 percent of people surveyed by WildAid believed that the pangolin could cure ailments ranging from rheumatism to skin diseases; consumers often drink it in wine or in powder form as part of traditional Chinese medicine prescriptions.
International laws forbid trafficking of all pangolin species, and techniques such as fingerprint forensics seek to deter poachers, but recent seizures have shown that the pangolin is still heavily trafficked around the world.
In February, 33 tons of pangolin meat were seized in two processing facilities in Malaysia, according to Traffic, a wildlife conservation group. Earlier that month, the Hong Kong authorities intercepted a nine-ton shipment of pangolin scales and a thousand elephant tusks.
When Singaporean officials intercepted the pangolin scale shipment last Wednesday, they also found nearly 400 pounds of carved ivory, officials said.