Nigeria Customs Seizes N22bn Pangolin, Elephant Parts

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Elephant tusks stored away under extreme security measures in the ivory stock pile of the Kruger National Park, South Africa.

By Adedapo Adesanya

The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has seized 196 sacks containing 7,137 kilogrammes of pangolin scales, 4.6 kg of pangolin claws and 846.34 kg of ivory after it busted a network of people who are involved in exporting prohibited animal products in Lagos.

The raid, carried out towards the end of July, the service said, was aided by the intelligence provided by the Wildlife Justice Commission.

All the wildlife products were destined for export, according to a statement released by the customs and the Wildlife Justice Commission.

Additional suspects are being sought in respect to this seizure, some of whom are believed to have already fled Nigeria.

This is the ninth largest seizure of pangolin scales in the last three years.

According to the statement, the arrested suspects are part of a well-known transnational criminal network operating in West Africa.

They are linked to approximately 50 per cent of all major pangolin scale seizures over the past three years.

“These arrests have severely disrupted this network,” the statement said.

The Comptroller-General of Customs, Mr Hameed Ibrahim Ali, said the seized contrabands were worth N22 billion.

Mr Ali said authorities had arrested the culprits – three foreign nationals and were pursuing a fourth, whom he described as the kingpin of the operation.

“The suspects arrested will soon have their date in court as NCS will leave no stone unturned to bring them to justice,” Mr Ali said.

“The Wildlife Justice Commission wishes to congratulate Nigeria Customs for their quick response resulting in this outstanding outcome against a well-established transnational organised crime network,” said Mr Steve Carmody, Wildlife Justice Commission Director of Programs in the statement.

“The truly horrific reality of this seizure is that even at seven tonnes, there were still eight other larger seizures in the last three years, and this network was responsible for at least half of them.

“We look forward to the arrest of the other wanted subjects and seeing proceeds of crime provisions applied to seize the ill-gotten gains of this network,” he added.

Large-scale and sustained trafficking of pangolin scales, sourced for jewellery and as a component of traditional Chinese medicine, is driving the species to the brink of extinction.

In 2020, Wildlife Justice Commission investigators were offered staggering quantities of pangolin scales, outnumbering the offers of ivory across all the organisation’s investigations for the first time.

This fact demonstrates the continued availability of pangolin scales and ongoing marketplace demand, despite COVID-19 travelling restrictions.

The Wildlife Justice Commission also identified that wildlife traders were stockpiling their products in order to resume trade as soon as restrictions were eased, a concern that has now been justified by seizures of massive amounts of pangolin scales such as this one.

The Wildlife Justice Commission had pointed out in recent reports that pangolin scales are increasingly substituted for, and trafficked alongside, ivory, a trend that the organisation already identified in 2019.

As ivory prices fall, traffickers are increasingly turning to pangolin scales; in combined shipments, the proportion of pangolin scales has surpassed the volume of ivory.

“This operation is a great example of how transnational wildlife crimes should be investigated and the tangible results that public-private partnerships can achieve by working together to disrupt organised crime,” said Mr Carmody.

“This operation is a major victory for law enforcement and for the Wildlife Justice Commission, but we must acknowledge that other actors will rise to take the place of those recently arrested.

“The Wildlife Justice Commission will use the evidence gathered through this arrest to continue our investigations into the trafficking of endangered wildlife and support the efforts of law enforcement agencies fighting wildlife crime. It takes a network to defeat a network.”

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