Environment

KWS seizes half tonne Pangolin scales at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport

A live Pangolin.

NAIROBI: Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) canine unit security personnel have seized 500 kilogrammes of Pangolin scales worth Sh300 million at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).

According to KWS communications manager, the unaccompanied consignment was seized at KQ cargo area of JKIA by KWS canine team. Investigations officers from KWS headquarters were called in and secured a seizure notice from the Customs department. The seized consignment is currently in KWS custody.

Investigations on the origin and destination of the contraband consignment revealed that the scales originated from Conakry, Guinea and were destined for Lagos, Nigeria.

According to Namory Keita of CITES Management authority in Conakry Guinea (Ministry of Water, Forests and Environment) regarding the consignment, the entire Permit and all other documents accompanying the consignment are fake.

He said Guinea was suspended by CITES in 2012 and has not issued any CITES permit since then. Furthermore, he indicated that a Mr Diallo (who signed the permit) is not a permit signatory in Guinea.
A similar amount of Pangolin scales was netted at the airport in March this year, whose origin was Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, destined for Bangkok, Thailand.

Just like the current seizure, the consignment was unaccompanied and was seized at JKIA. It had been declared as feathers. A seizure notice was issued by the customs department and the scales are in KWS custody.

Since the beginning of this year, KWS canine unit stationed JKIA has managed to make five seizures of Pangolin scales ranging from 200 grams to half a tone in an intensified mop-up exercise to rid the illegal trade of wildlife products.

KWS and other law enforcement agencies have put in place elaborate strategies to protect, conserve and curb the illegal trade of Pangolin scales within the country. Recent statistics show that most trafficked Pangolin scales come from West African countries and are usually destined to Asian countries. Most consignments that have been seized are on transit at JKIA and are usually unaccompanied.

Pangolins are burrowing mammals that are covered in tough, overlapping scales. The species vary in size from about 1.6 kilogrammes to a maximum of about 33 kilogrammes. These burrowing mammals eat ants and termites using an extraordinarily long, sticky tongue, and are able to quickly roll themselves up into a tight ball when threatened.

They vary in colour from light to yellowish brown through olive to dark brown. Overlapping scales cover most of their bodies. These scales are made from keratin, the same protein that forms human hair and finger nails. Their scales grow throughout the life of a pangolin just like human hair.

There are eight different pangolin species that are found across Asia (Indian pangolin, the Chinese or Formosan pangolin, the Malayan or Sunda pangolin, and the Palawan pangolin) and sub-Saharan Africa (Cape or ground pangolin, the tree pangolin, the giant pangolin, and the long-tailed pangolin). It is unknown how long pangolins can live in the wild, though there are reports of them living up to twenty tears in captivity.
Large concentrations of giant pangolins and tree pangolins are found in Uganda, Tanzania, and Western Kenya.

Pangolins live predominantly on a diet of ants and termites, which they may supplement with various other invertebrates including bee larvae, flies, worms, earthworms, and crickets. This specialist diet makes them extremely difficult to maintain in captivity.

Pangolins are on the path to extinction in Asia, but this has not quelled the appetite for this unusual creature, the most heavily trafficked mammal in the world which is prized for the traditional medicinal value of its scales and meat.

In most Asian countries the pangolins are critically endangered and with their population dwindling traffickers have now invaded the African population thus putting them in danger of extinction.

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