Pangolin scales stockpile after China ban on sale of wild animals: report

Bangkok Desk, Apr 29 (efe-epa).- The Chinese ban on the sale of wild animals in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak has caused stockpiling of pangolin scales in Vietnam and ivory across Southeast Asian countries, a global wildlife watchdog warned Wednesday.

The Wildlife Justice Commission’s report, titled the Rapid Assessment of the Impact of Covid-19 on Wildlife Trafficking, said stockpiling of large quantities of pangolin scales was occurring in Vietnam.

The watchdog that investigates illegal trafficking in endangered species said traders in Vietnam had offered more than 22 tons of pangolin scales to undercover WJC investigators in the first three months of 2020.

Pangolin scales, the commission said, could be substituting ivory in the illegal market in China amid growing difficulties and reduced profitability in the ivory trade.

The pangolin is an endangered species and among the most-trafficked animals in the world. Its scales, used for medicinal purposes, have opened up a multi-billion-dollar illegal cross-border trade, particularly in Asia.

The pangolin is believed to have been one of the species linked passing the novel coronavirus to humans after Covid-19 broke out in China late last year. The Chinese authorities have since moved to ban the trade of all wild animal products.

The watchdog also reported huge stockpiles of ivory had accumulated in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos.

“This stockpiling trend in ivory trafficking, caused by the ivory ban in China and increased law enforcement pressure in China and elsewhere, was already identified in 2019 and has been exacerbated since January.”

The commission said the closure of borders due to the coronavirus has hampered the trade of endangered species for now but poaching of animals was likely to increase, as authorities remain diverted towards imposing anti-pandemic measures.

The report by the commission warned that poaching networks were trying to find their way through the tighter boundary controls.

It said the lockdown measures that have brought world economies to a grinding halt “may have temporarily restricted illicit trade by default”, which is “unlikely to last long”.

“All indications presently show that the high-level trafficking networks will resume operations as soon as they are able, or will adapt and find alternative workarounds for the current blockages.”

The watchdog said a major concern was that poaching incidents might increase during the lockdown period, as criminal networks exploit perceived opportunities of park closures, reduced patrols in protected areas.

“The Wildlife Justice Commission understands that several prolific poaching bosses in Africa are actively organizing poaching teams to enter parks and protected areas during this time.”

It said that border closures and travel restrictions were having “a significant effect” on wildlife trafficking operations, especially in Asia, as traders were facing challenges in accessing Chinese markets to sell the stock.

Illegal wildlife trafficking with a $23 billion annual turnover is the fourth most lucrative global crime after drugs, humans, and arms, according to a World Economic Forum report.

WJC’s intelligence chief Sarah Stoner told Efe that illegal wildlife trafficking was related to tax evasion, money, and corruption — “one of the most widespread and important problems, especially in less developed countries” that also “affects judges, customs officials, it is everywhere.”

The watchdog said it had also observed changes in transportation methods of wildlife contraband.

“Security measures on air transport have impacted criminal dynamics, as traffickers are not guaranteed that the shipment or courier will arrive at their (air) port of choice,” it said.

It said that sea and road transport remained alternative options as products were still arriving or were due to arrive via sea as some might have been sent pre-lockdown.

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