Cameroon says it has intercepted more than 670 kilograms of African pangolin that authorities say were being smuggled from the Central African country to Malaysia. The pangolin is the world’s most trafficked mammal, and conservationist groups are calling for severe sanctions on the three traffickers who have been arrested.
Cameroon customs lieutenant, Wara Wara Francois Noel, of the Yaounde-Nsimalen international airport told VOA the recovered pangolin scales were found in several meat packets. He said the three smugglers had bribed their way into the airport, but authorities were mobilized after getting a tip from wildlife officials.
He says two weeks after the tip, his staff finally intercepted the truck loaded with pangolins at the plane bound for Malaysia. He says although it was the first large-scale interception of the protected mammal at the Yaounde-Nsimalen international airport, authorities say the have been regularly seizing three to five kilograms of scales and meat of the pangolins hidden in little containers.
Six months ago, Hong Kong authorities announced a massive seizure of four tons of pangolin scales that had arrived from Cameroon and were being smuggled to Asian countries.
Among the organizations assisting officials in this ongoing case is the local NGO, the Last Great Ape Association, or LAGA. Its deputy director Eric Kaba Tah says traffickers have often able to buy their way around sanctions when caught in Cameroon.
"According to the 1994 wildlife law, anybody arrested or found in possession of parts or whole of a protected wildlife species is presumed to have captured or killed that animal and is liable to a prison term of one to three years and or a 10 million CFA [$20,000] maximum fine," said Tah. "If the law were applied as it was supposed to be applied, we would have been seeing many wildlife criminals behind the bars."
Some cultures consider pangolin meat a delicacy and use pangolin scales in traditional medicine. High demand has fueled an international criminal trade that has severely threatened the survival of the world’s eight pangolin species.
It is estimated that more than a million pangolins have been snatched from the wild in the past decade.
In September, the world’s largest wildlife protection convention, known as CITES, recommended a complete ban on international commercial trade.