Thai Customs Makes Record Seizure of Endangered Species

Vital link on supply chain of major crime syndicate shipping pangolins from Africa to Asia is exposed

Customs officer holds up handful of pangolin scales at press conference in Bangkok. Photo: Freeland

BANGKOK, February 2, 2017 In the largest seizure of pangolin scales to ever take place in Thailand, Customs officers confiscated almost 3,000 kilograms of scales taken from the world’s most trafficked mammal, authorities announced today at a press conference.

A spokesperson for Royal Thai Customs said that the scales, packed in bags, were intercepted in Bangkok on two separate flights in December, but the seizures were only announced today. Believed to be worth upwards of US$1 million on the black market, the cargo was flown from Kinshasha in Congo, via Turkey, and was bound for Vientiane, the capital of Laos.  

Thai authorities suspect that from Laos the contraband would be shipped to Vietnam and China. In those countries, pangolin meat and scales are used in the mistaken belief that they confer health benefits on the consumer.    


Members of the Royal Thai Police on hand at the press conference speculated that the two shipments were sent before the CITES-imposed trade ban on all pangolins could come into effect at the beginning of 2017. At the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, held last year in South Africa, all eight species of pangolin, four in Asia and four in Africa, were afforded the maximum protection.

Steve Galster, the Director of Freeland, a counter-trafficking organization based in Bangkok, said, "This enormous pile of scales represents the slaughter of perhaps thousands of pangolins. It is time for enforcement agencies in Asia to go beyond seizing dead animal parts and to start seizing the crooks behind these heinous crimes. The hopeful news is that African authorities have recently started racking up arrests on that continent where much of the wildlife being traded in Asia is poached."

Freeland is a frontline counter-trafficking organization working for a world that is free of wildlife trafficking and human slavery. Our team of law enforcement, development and communications specialists work alongside partners in Asia, Africa and the Americas to protect the environment and vulnerable people from organized crime and corruption. For more info, visit also; follow Freeland on Twitter @FREELANDpeople or