PETALING JAYA - A Malaysian businessman has been arrested by Hong Kong Customs following the seizure of 3.3 tonnes of pangolin scales smuggled from Africa.
The haul came from two shipments that arrived from Malaysia on two separate dates in May and June. It has been described as the largest seizure of pangolin scales there in five years.
"Hong Kong Customs today detected a sea-bound suspected cargo smuggling case and seized about 1,000kg of pangolin scales from a container at the Kwai Chung Custom house cargo examination compound," a Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department press release had said on May 28.
The scales were found in 40 of the 510 bags of goods in the container.
On June 11, another container in which the contents were declared as sawn timber from Cameroon, was found to contain 2.34 tonnes of pangolin scales packed in 115 bags.
It is believed that the pangolin scales from both shipments came from 8,000 endangered scaly anteaters, and may have been bound for mainland China.
According to the South China Morning Post, Customs officers arrested an unnamed 46-year-old Malaysian businessman, who has been released on bail pending further investigations.
The report added that both shipments came via Malaysia.
A Hong Kong official said the total value amounted to HK$17mil (S$2.74 million), with another adding that the pangolin scales could sell for HK$5,000 (RM2,086) per kg in the black market.
Wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic (South-East Asia) regional director Dr Chris Shepherd said the seizures showed that it was easy to traffick the items through Malaysia.
"The illegal wildlife trade is like electricity. It takes the path of least resistance. If they (smugglers) can do it without getting caught, they're going to do just that," he said.
Dr Shepherd said Malaysia was well-known as a transit point for such activities as the risk of being caught was low.
He said that while Malaysian Customs had upped their enforcement efforts, help from other agencies were definitely needed.
"For them (the smugglers) to try something this big suggests that they think it's very easy (to use Malaysia)," he said.
The Star reported last July that the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) had foiled 50 smuggling attempts since 2010, seizing nearly 1,500 pangolins.
Pangolin scales are used as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, while its meat is desired as an exotic dish.
Attempts to reach Perhilitan and Malaysian Customs were unsuccessful at press time.