Pangolin Pit 3 2015 05 01
Wildlife officials in Indonesia recently confiscated five tons of frozen pangolin carcasses. Image: Paul Hilton

Wildlife officials in Indonesia recently confiscated a staggering five tons of frozen pangolin carcasses in what is believed to be the largest case of pangolin smuggling since 2008. The seizure took place last week at a warehouse near Begawan port in Sumatra and was carried out by the Indonesian National Police along with a team from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Also included in the grisly haul was 77 kilograms (169 lbs) of pangolin scales, 96 live pangolins and 24 bear paws. The smuggler, identified only by the initials SHB, has been taken into custody and faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison or a fine of $10,000 USD.

Officials believe that the animals were poached on the island of Sumatra, but the illegal shipment was headed to China to be sold for meat and use in traditional medicine. The total value of the seized shipment is over 1,8 million USD.

"This is a major breakthrough, both in terms of the enormous size of the shipment and in terms of the increasing sophistication of collaborative methods used by Indonesian authorities in making the bust," WCS Executive Director for Asia Programs, Joe Walston told Mongabay.

The 96 live animals were taken to a protected forest on the outskirts of the city where they were released - a small victory for the wildlife officials involved in this monumental bust.

Baby Pangolin With Mother 2015 05 01
A tiny baby pangolin offers a small glimmer of hope for the wildlife officials involved in this monumental bust. Image: Paul Hilton

Although they are little-known to the general public, pangolins are amongst the most trafficked wild animals in the world. Their scales are sought after for use in traditional Chinese medicine, and their meat is considered a delicacy in East Asia. The animals seized in this bust are Sunda pangolins (Manis javanica) - a species listed as critically endangered by the IUCN with populations being decimated as a result of this kind of rampant poaching. Of the four species of pangolins found in Asia, all are listed as either Endangered or Critically Endangered.
Photojournalist Paul Hilton documented the almost unbelievable bust as well as the release of the live pangolins and the destruction of the pangolin carcasses (Warning: some of these images are graphic):

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