Singapore Makes Record African Ivory and Pangolin Seizure

Published Jul 23, 2019 6:45 PM by The Maritime Executive

Singapore made a record seizure of pangolin scales and ivory tusks last weekend after authorities uncovered three containers filled with 11.9 tons of pangolin scales and 8.8 tons of elephant ivory.

The animal products were shipped from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and headed for Vietnam. 

The seizure took place after China Customs officers shared relevant intelligence with the Singapore authorities following the recent arrest of 12 people on suspicion of wildlife trafficking in China. Singapore’s National Parks Board, Customs and the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority inspected the shipment that was said to contain timber, according to the bill of lading. 

The scales were assessed to be from close to 2,000 Giant Ground Pangolins while the ivory would have derived from hundreds of African Elephants.

This is Singapore’s largest seizure of elephant ivory to date, eclipsing their previous record of 7.12 tons in 2002, which was long considered the largest ivory seizure worldwide since 1989 when detailed record keeping began. The 237 bags of scales found on Sunday brings the total to 37.5 tons of African pangolin scales seized in Singapore this year alone.

NGO TRAFFIC’s data analysis showed key Southeast Asian countries where shipments of illicit wildlife products exported from DRC were destined or intercepted as Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand, with Singapore recently joining the list. 

Vietnam topped the list, receiving a total of over 20 tons of trafficked ivory and pangolin scales, including a single seizure of 9.1 tons of African elephant tusks discovered in Da Nang’s Tien Sa port in March 2019 from the Matadi port in the DRC - the largest ivory seizure on record globally. 

The DRC’s role as a critical exit point from Africa is also highlighted following the Singapore enforcement action. Over 66 tons of illicit ivory and pangolin scale shipments seized worldwide between 2017–2019 originated from the DRC. At least 2,469kg of ivory and pangolin scales were also seized within the DRC in 2017 and 2018, in 17 incidents.

Such seizures, including the latest in Singapore, point to the persistence of large-scale trafficking in ivory and pangolins from Africa to Southeast Asia. Apart from Sunday’s seizure, Singapore has seized close to 30 tons of pangolin scales and ivory from just four incidents since 2018, all of which originated from Nigeria and were reportedly heading to Vietnam. 

TRAFFIC is now calling on Singapore to lead by example and undertake a thorough forensic examination of the seized products to determine their age and origin in order to aid in identifying the people responsible.