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Huge Consignment of Illegally Trafficked Pangolin Scales Seized in Communist China

Jonathan Walker
Jonathan loves talking politics, economics and philosophy. He carries unique perspectives on everything making him a rather odd mix of liberal-conservative with a streak of independent Austrian thought.
Published: September 9, 2021
Millions of dollars worth of pangolin scales were sized in China.
Millions of dollars worth of pangolin scales were sized in China. (Image: Joshua Prieto via Pexels)

The police in communist China recently seized eight tons of pangolin scales from a wildlife-smuggling ring in the southern Guangdong province. The value of the scales is estimated at $62 million. Other illegal animal products were also seized.

In July 2020, the police discovered the hideout of the illegal trafficking gang. The place was filled with smuggled pangolin scales and exotic wild birds and animals. At the time, the officials arrested 17 suspects. After a six-month investigation, the police tracked down the entire ring involved in the smuggling operations.

The majority of pangolin scales were transported to Bozhou in the Anhui Province. For a long time, the city of Bozhou has been a major point of distribution for ingredients used in traditional Chinese medicine. According to He Weiyou, a police officer from Zhuhai Public Security Bureau who was part of the bust, roughly 16,000 pangolins must have been killed to acquire such a high volume of scales. 

In China, pangolin scales are considered to be extremely valuable due to their use in traditional Chinese medicine. Pangolin meat is also seen as a delicacy and is only affordable to affluent people. The killing and trafficking of pangolins have become so widespread that these animals are now listed as critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Pangolins are believed to be the world’s most trafficked non-human mammal.

The scales of pangolins are made of keratin, the same material that forms nails and hair. Practitioners of Chinese medicine swear by its benefits. It is used as a solution for a wide range of problems, such as women with lactation issues and arthritis. The scales are usually dried up and ground into a fine powder; then it’s made into a pill for consumption.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, pangolins have been seen as a potential source of transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus to humans. In May, the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), the laboratory believed to be where COVID-19 originated, suggested such a possibility. However, like the bat origin theory, there has been no scientific evidence suggesting it’s true. The CCP-backed Global Times used the WIV study to dismiss the lab leak theory.

The COVID-19 outbreak resulted in the establishment of more stringent restrictions against the illegal wildlife trafficking industry in communist China. The black market industry is estimated to be worth $74 billion. Prior to 2020, wildlife trafficking was considered to be too critical for rural economies to fully shut it down. An estimated 14 million people were employed in the industry at its peak; most workers were involved in farming and transportation.