40 Pangolin Traffickers with 1,220 Pangolins Arrested in INTERPOL Operation Across Asia

INTERPOL’s Operation Libra, the the largest coordinated operation against the illegal poaching and trade in pangolins in SE Asia, carried out coordinated investigation and enforcement actions across Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. In total, 1,220 pangolins were confiscated, including one case where Indonesian authorities discovered a shipment of 260 cartons of frozen pangolins weighing 5 tonnes bound for Vietnam. INTERPOL’s I-24/7 secure communications system was used and additional assistance provided by the World Customs Organization (WCO) to track the shipment to Hai Phong, Vietnam, where it was intercepted by customs officers. The two countries are working together to identify the suspects.  Supported by the Freeland Foundation through a grant from USAID, the operation led to the arrest of more than 40 individuals, with some 200 additional cases currently under investigation across the region. During Operation Libra, which also saw the assistance of the ASEAN-Wildlife Enforcement Network, raids were conducted on restaurants, private zoos, and other premises. Approximately 1,220 pangolins were recovered, almost half of which were still alive. Birds, snakes and, alarmingly, eight tigers cubs were also seized during the operation. The operation was carried out in June and July this year and has been hailed as an unprecedented example of the success that can be achieved in combating international wildlife trade through coordinated international investigation and enforcement actions.

David Higgins, head of INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Programme said: “Operation Libra is an outstanding example of the results that can be achieved through international cooperation in addressing the trafficking of one of the world’s most vulnerable animals. But unless we build on the momentum started by this operation and identify and prosecute those controlling the trade, it is highly likely we will see the extinction of pangolins in many regions”.

The little-known pangolin is found across most of Asia and Africa, feeding silently at night on termites and other insects using a well-developed sense of smell and an amazing ability ro dig to locate and excavate their prey. During the day they seek shelter in small burrows, and if disturbed curl up for protection until the threat goes away. The protective ball they curl themselves into is able to ward off lions and leopards due to the protection provided by the large scales that cover their body. The belief that the scales have medicinal qualities and preference for the meat in a multitude of traditional dishes has seen millions of pangolins ripped from the wild and whisked away to a fate worse then death. All eight species of pangolin are protected under national laws, and are also covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In spite of this, thousands of animals are seized every year. Whilst some animals are found alive, their chances of survival are poor due to harsh transportation conditions and their release in unsuitable environments. The pangolin was not the most popular source of bushmeat 100 years ago, other better tasting, larger and more abundant animals that are now locally extinct (e.g. elephant and small antelope) would have been on the menu. If the last pangolin dies, we would have gone too far and their is no hope…


See also:

The decimation of the African green pigeons in the Democratic Republic of Congo: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/08/29/will-the-congos-green-pigeons-go-the-way-of-the-passenger-pigeon/ 

Over 4,000 people arrested during INTERPOL’s Operation Cage: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/07/26/4000-people-arrested-during-interpols-operation-cage-that-targeted-the-illegal-trade-in-birds/

The world’s most trade birds are from Africa? http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/01/17/the-worlds-most-traded-wild-birds-senegal-parrots-color-morphs-and-the-wild-caught-bird-trade/ 

Human Journey


Meet the Author
Steve Boyes has dedicated his life to conserving Africa's wilderness areas and the species that depend upon them. After having worked as a camp manager and wilderness guide in the Okavango Delta and doing his PhD field work on the little-known Meyer's Parrot, Steve took up a position as a Centre of Excellence Postdoctoral Fellow at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. He has since been appointed the Scientific Director of the Wild Bird Trust and is a 2014 TED Fellow. His work takes him all over Africa, but his day-to-day activities are committed to South Africa's endemic and Critically Endangered Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus). Based in Hogsback Village in the Eastern Cape (South Africa), Steve runs the Cape Parrot Project, which aims to stimulate positive change for the species through high-quality research and community-based conservation action. When not in Hogsback, Steve can be found in the Okavango Delta where he explores remote areas of this wetland wilderness on "mokoros" or dug-out canoes to study endangered bird species in areas that are otherwise inaccessible. Steve is a 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work in the Okavango Delta and on the Cape Parrot Project.