Malaysia seizes 400 kilograms of pangolin scales from Ghana

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Malaysian customs officials said Friday they have seized nearly 400 kilograms (880 pounds) of pangolin scales worth 5 million ringgit ($1.2 million) from Ghana.

The seizure brings the total amount of confiscated pangolin scales to 1.4 tons in two months.

Kuala Lumpur airport customs director Hamzah Sundang said officials found the scales in 16 boxes labeled oyster shells at the airport cargo warehouse on Thursday based on a tip. He said the boxes arrived on a Turkish Airlines flight from Ghana and that no one had been arrested.

Eight species of pangolin, or scaly anteater, live in Asia and Africa and are targeted for their scales and meat. More than one million have been poached in the past decade, threatening the creature with extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

In Vietnam and some parts of China, pangolin meat is considered a delicacy, while its scales of keratin, the protein also found in fingernails and rhino horn, are widely used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Last Friday, officials seized 288 kilograms (635 pounds) of pangolin scales at the airport cargo warehouse in 12 boxes also labeled oyster shells and flown in from Ghana. Those scales were worth about 3.7 million ringgit ($870,000), officials said. In May, officials made two hauls totaling 712 kilograms and estimated to be worth more than 9 million ringgit ($2.1 million).

Custom officials also have seized 18 rhino horns and 330 exotic tortoises at the airport warehouse since May.

Wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC hailed Malaysia's seizures but voiced concern over the alarming volume of wildlife contraband from Africa.

"Multiple shipments comprising of rhino horns, pangolin scales and live critically endangered tortoises ... entering Malaysia signifies a very worrying pattern; that traffickers feel they can continuously move their contraband through the country," Kanitha Krishnasamy, an official with TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, said in a statement this week.