Image: Pangolin
Meg Gawler / WWF-Canon
Pangolin, a scaly relative of anteaters, are sought in China as a delicacy as well as for traditional medicine.
updated 8/6/2008 8:49:12 AM ET 2008-08-06T12:49:12

Police raided the warehouse of a suspected illegal wildlife trader in western Indonesia, seizing 14 tons of endangered pangolin, their carcasses frozen and ready for export to China, conservationists said Wednesday.

Fourteen suspects were arrested, the wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC said, describing the seizure as the largest-ever of the scaly, lizard-like animals in Indonesia.

"This is trans-border syndicate," the group quoted Didid Widjanardi, a senior national police officer, as saying. "The pangolins were packed and ready for export to China via seaports in Sumatra and Java" islands.

Having decimated the pangolin populations in Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and China itself, smugglers now seek the scaly mammal, a relative of anteaters, in Malaysia and Indonesia.

$45 a pound
Selling for $45 a pound in Shanghai, pangolin meat is regarded as highly nutritious while its scales are prescribed for ailments ranging from skin diseases to lack of milk in breast-feeding mothers.

Wildlife trade's dark side

Pangolins are protected by Indonesia law, and are banned from international trade by the U.N.-backed Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. "Yet, despite legal protection, illegal trade continues to push pangolins closer to the brink of extinction, with Indonesia being the main source of these animals, which are destined for China," TRAFFIC said in a statement.

Last week's arrests in the Sumatran city of Palembang were triggered by two seizures earlier this year in Vietnam, involving more than 23 tons of frozen pangolins that were known to have originated from Indonesia.

Enforcement or extinction?

Image: Pangolin meat, parts
Vietnam Customs
This is part of the 23 tons of pangolin meat and scales seized earlier this year in Vietnam.
"The police in Indonesia have done an excellent job and should be applauded," said Chris Shepherd, senior program officer with TRAFFIC. "We hope that these criminals are prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

Elizabeth Bennett of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society noted that "the illegal trade in wildlife is now a multimillion dollar international business. Endangered wildlife is being traded for food, medicines, ornaments, pets and more."

"This trade is already driving many species to the brink of extinction," she added. "If we don’t act soon it will be too late."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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