Human Journey

Pangolin Prison – Part II

This article is brought to you by the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). Read our other articles on the National Geographic Voices blog featuring the work of our iLCP Fellow Photographers all around the world.

Text and photos by iLCP Fellow Paul Hilton

Click here to read Part 1 of “Pangolin Prison.”

Warning: this article contains images that some viewers might find disturbing. 

Two days after the discovery and bust of a massive illegal wildlife smuggling operation in Medan, Sumatra, and of 5 tons of slaughtered pangolins, I’m back in a taxi heading out to a huge cleared block of land, several kilometers from the warehouse. The Indonesian National Police and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Wildlife Crimes Unit interrupted an important pangolin smuggling operation in the port of Medan, providing black market pangolin meat and scales to traders in China and Vietnam, and now this unimaginable hoard of dead pangolins needs to be destroyed.

It’s 6am; upon arrival I see a pit next to an excavator. I meet the team; nothing really prepares me for what I’m about to see. As I approached the side of the pit, I’m left speechless. Thousands of dead pangolin bodies, some frozen, others defrosted and some in plastic bags. A spokesmen from the police said that pangolins where 4 to 5 deep. According to WCS, I was looking at least three, possibly four thousand in total.

At 9am the National Indonesian Police arrives ahead of the Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar and after a brief ceremony the pangolins were set alight.

My taxi pulled away from the scene, as I was still trying to comprehend what I had just witnessed.

3000 to 4000 slaughtered frozen pangolins lying in a pit before being burnt, 29th April 2015 Medan Indonesia. After a pangolin bust  conducted by the Indonesian National Police along side WCS’s Wildlife Crimes Unit. The haul of the world’s most hunted animal is valued on the black market at USD 1.8 million. Photo: Paul Hilton of WCS
3000 to 4000 slaughtered frozen pangolins lying in a pit before being burnt, 29th April 2015 Medan Indonesia. After a pangolin bust conducted by the Indonesian National Police along side WCS’s Wildlife Crimes Unit. The haul of the world’s most hunted animal is valued on the black market at USD 1.8 million. Photo: Paul Hilton of WCS



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  • Cynthia Ross

    All over the world dedicated people are fighting for animal rights , and now with this devastating Pangolian discovery there is another fight. I don’t know how much good these blogs do but I pray that some good comes from it.

  • Tina l Haskell-Desmond

    Barbaric …….this cruelty needs to be stopped ….NOW


    In an ideal world we would all blockade China, not only for being responsible for the destruction of so much wildlife world wide but also for providing products using cheap labour. European countries have strict labour laws and yet we buy products from China, knowing that they do not keep to these standards.

  • Markus

    I don’t get the plot, those are dead animals? OK, and we don’t have that in West?

  • Robert

    Markus, pangolins, like tigers, elephants, and many other animals, are being driven extinct by people’s absurd beliefs in the magical properties of their bodies. For alt med people, this is what traditional Chinese medicine looks like.

  • Greg smith

    Killing on this scale is unsustainable and frankly insane. What will the wildlife criminals target after the Pangolin is gone? Will the market invent medicinal cures from a body part of some other animal?
    The source of the problem is the market for the product which generates the profit from the killing.
    The nations and peoples who consume these products need to be educated and motivated to stop using what are essentially useless, but deadly products.

  • Hollie

    This has broken my heart. Humans just wont stop until there is nothing left but hell on mother Earth.

  • Francis TARLA

    This moves everybody! Thanks for letting the world see this level of destruction and massacre! Its unbelievable; Cameroonian conservation authorities need to see these pictures!.. and see what may be happening to our own Pangolin population!

  • Suzanne Kerr

    I hope Human Heads are the next things on the ‘Magical Cures’ list .. The Herd seriously needs thinning.. There are too many EVIL, Greedy, Selfish (so-called) Humans walking on this dying place we call Earth.. (I literally feel sick when I read this) :'(

  • Sangie Tan

    These bustard Indonesians will kill anything for money. As the demand for its meat is high, nothing can prevent the hunters from killing them for money. Other animals too have been and will be killed in this nation, all for money as Indonesians are poor.


    China has blood on there hands . there country is the main importer of ivory and other wild life body parts from Africa .
    Now the chinese are getting a grip on south / central America .
    The chinese are buying there way into poorer Asian countries paying locals to poach wild life for chinese greed
    the chinese are like parasites they consume everything around them they have no respect for the worlds environment and flora and fauna .
    the only way to stop the chinese is place sanctions on there country and educate poor nations on how to protect and respect wild life

  • Jude Livingston

    When we realise too late that we are just a part of nature,we too will become extinct.Mother nature will be so better off without us.We have no respect for our planet.

  • Kathryn Haesner

    I feel sick. Too dumbstruck to even write anything….so angry.

  • Shirley

    The authorities are well aware of these terrible barbaric and cruel acts and the power of the dollar overrides the necessary action that needs to be taken to STOP IT. How can humans do this to such innocent creatures and to such a mass destruction is beyond belief … I am ashamed and disgusted. Just another example of greed and China has no regard for wildlife as long as it gets these so called animal products for their stupid medicines.

  • paula murch

    Everything has a right to life no one should get away with wiping out animals for the sake of money. N othing is worth extinction for greed to line someones pockets it makes me sick. T oo many wonderful creature’s being senselessly destroyed. Sssssooooo not right STOP THIS NOW PROTECT OUR WORLD A EVERYTHING THAT LIVES IN IT.

  • Bec

    I don’t understand. Why are there so many in this grave if they are culled for their meat??? Is it because they were seized?


    every citizen of INDONESIA should be standing alongside mother nature (shes there even though you dont see her) and shedding a tear and be outraged at that pit and the ensuing fireand realize that when eveery animal is extinct in the world whos next, US?. when we call mother nature for help then do you think she will respond??. STOP THIS CARNAGE AGAINST HER.

  • Sheryl Schroeder

    China! AGAIN!!! — That country is the main consumer of ivory and other wild life body parts from Africa. This is a crime against God Himself. Where will it end? They just don’t stop! Killing tigers, lions, beautiful magnificent things for potions and trinkets!
    Now the Chinese are invading south / central America to deplete animal species there too…
    The Chinese are buying there way into poorer Asian countries paying locals to poach wild life for Chinese greed!
    The Chinese are parasites that consume everything around them they have no respect for the worlds environment and nature. CHINA MUST BE STOPPED!!! The U.S. is a major world power, we need to mobilize and stop this heinous crime against nature and God.

  • Sheryl Schroeder

    China! AGAIN! They are the main consumer of ivory products from Africa and India and now they are invading other countries to rape and pillage other species too. They kill tigers, lions, elephants, rhinos… magnificent beings, for potions and trinkets! This has GOT TO STOP! It’s a CRIME against God Himself and Mother Nature. is NOTHING sacred to them at all? And we need to STOP buying anything made in China! Sanction them. They must be stopped! I’m heartbroken.

  • Sekiwunga Peter

    I can’t help feeling a sense of helplessness looking at that picture because i personally belong to the Pangolin (Lugave) clan in my tribe. What have we done to mother nature? We can’t even count the cost.

  • Moraima

    It’s heartbreaking to see this! They continue wipe out species and it seems like no other government cares. Something must be done to stop this horrible abuse.

  • Shawn Arstill

    all I can do is sit and shake my head. these kinds of acts are the reality of the uselessness of (some) humans.

  • Sea Foam

    This is disgusting. What a tragedy! All for some stupid ignorant people in china? What is worse here is they said the guy MIGHT get 5 years. WHAT? He should be strung up in the town square and made an example of. Why does this country even bother with laws? That man has less value than those animals did and he should pay the same price as they did. Poaching endangered species should be a death sentence!

  • James Thurston

    The sight of all those thousands of dead pangolins makes me sick to the stomach. They are such beautiful, unique and irreplaceable mammals. I cannot believe that just to satisfy the whimsical needs of human beings so much carnage of living creatures is necessary.
    I wish the organisations, those who work in them and others who are straining every sinew to save these remarkable creatures from human greed and avarice all the best in their endeavours.

  • Amos Ochieng

    This is horrible and terribly heartbreaking. I hope the ongoing Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in South Africa agree on a complete worldwide ban on this trade.

  • Doug Pfenning

    If we find a food in the wild that is desirable, then only after learning how to cultivate/raise it should it be allowed to be consumed. To consume a food in the wild without replacing it is a heinous example of Stupid. Can we start using our position of being intelligent to deal with stupid.

  • Terris Frick

    R.I.P. My soul hurts

  • Nikita Nain

    Another example of our selfish needs. The travesty of the superiority of humans is evident here.
    We are so blind to extravagance and an ostentatious lifestyle that the ruin we leave behind is lost in the background.
    What humanity is this?!

  • Jackie

    Seeing this,I feel so sad ..So sad that we, who are intelligent beings have stoop so low,it is unbelievable…The animals in the wild are getting extinct as days go by…years from now we will never see much treasured species..if we don’t stop we will kill nature ourselves ,it will be on our hands,we can’t blame climate change or anything else within the environment because we are the cause of everything that happens in the environment.God Bless the animals that are still living in the wild.My heart goes out to them!!!

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