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Nigerian Authorities Seize Pangolin Scales Destined for Export

A white-bellied pangolin which was rescued from local animal traffickers is seen at the Uganda Wildlife Authority office in Kampala, Uganda, on April 9, 2020.

Nigerian customs officials have announced the country's third largest bust of pangolin scales and the arrest of three foreign nationals.

Pandemic travel restrictions had slowed trafficking of the endangered anteater to Asia, where its scales are used in traditional medicine. But experts say a July raid at a Lagos warehouse shows that traffickers have been stockpiling wildlife parts pending the lifting of restrictions.

This week, authorities displayed the confiscated items at a briefing in Lagos. They say 196 sacks of pangolin scales weighing 7.1 tons were seized in the raid, along with 840 kilograms of elephant ivory.

In this April 9, 2019, photo released by the National Parks Board, over 12 tons of pangolin scales are displayed in an undisclosed site in Singapore.
In this April 9, 2019, photo released by the National Parks Board, over 12 tons of pangolin scales are displayed in an undisclosed site in Singapore.

Joseph Attah is the public relations officer with Nigeria’s Customs Service. At a briefing with reporters, he discussed the case and Nigeria’s efforts to curb the illegal trade.

"The demand is not in Nigeria, the source is not in Nigeria and those involved, most of them are not even Nigerians," Attah said. "Nigeria as a nation is only being used as a transit route. To that extent Nigeria is collaborating with international partners to ensure that never again shall we be used as a transit hub."

Authorities say a joint operation with the Netherlands-based Wildlife Justice Commission, or WJC, led to the arrests of the three suspects. Officials also say those in custody will serve as links to other members of a gang, including the landlord of the Lagos warehouse.

This was the ninth-largest seizure of pangolin scales globally since 2019 and the third in Nigeria within the same period.

Last year, authorities seized 9.5 tons of wildlife parts here and another 8.8 tons this past January.

The Wildlife Justice Commission says the latest confiscations show that the market for pangolin scales continues to thrive despite COVID-19 restrictions.

Sarah Stoner is the director of intelligence at the WJC.

"A lot of our investigations are done in an undercover manner, so we're talking to different brokers and traffickers about different products they have availability or access to," Stoner said. "The fact that they seem to have a lot more access to pangolin scales last year is really significant. We also know that a lot of those individuals who are also stockpiling are waiting for transport to resume to enable them to move a lot of those."

Pangolin scales and elephant tusks have been touted and smuggled to countries in Asia where they are priced and used as jewelry or for traditional medicinal purposes.

In 2014, Nigeria and Congo overtook Kenya and Tanzania as the major transit hub for wildlife trafficking in Africa, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).