More than 13 tonnes, or about 4,000, descaled and disemboweled pangolins were discovered in a cargo container at Kaohsiung’s Pier 66, the Kaohsiung Customs Administration Office said on Thursday, adding that it has launched an investigation to track the group behind the illegal imports.
The original shipping company failed to return a shipping container to its original address on Monday, saying that the recipient refused to accept the shipment, the Kaohsiung office said, adding that it opened the container on Tuesday to inspect the contents, as it found the application suspicious.
The front section of the container contained frozen sardines, a suspected cover for the pangolins in the rear of the container, the office said.
Photo copied by Hung Chen-hung, Taipei Times
The container was shipped from Malaysia to Kaohsiung on Dec. 27 last year, but had remained in an unloading bay, as the recipient had not submitted its customs form, the office said.
“We suspect the recipient of the container is a shell company, as the contents of the shipping manifest were evidently false,” the office said, adding that it suspects the group behind the trafficking knew the pangolins would be found and hoped to swap the contents of the container while it was still in the harbor.
“However, it is believed that the group was unable to find a good opportunity to make the swap and decided to return the container before making another attempt to smuggle in the pangolins,” the office said.
Had the contents of the container made it past customs, the pangolins would have been sold to restaurants as a gourmet delicacy, the office said.
“Pangolins are being sold for about NT$2,000 [US$68.41] per kilogram and many groups are trafficking pangolins in the hope of making a profit,” the office said.
According to Taiwanese law and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, pangolins are a protected species and their trade is heavily restricted.
The Wildlife Conservation Act (野生動物保育法) also prohibits the import or export of pangolins unless agreed to by the government, and offenders face prison terms of between six months and five years, and fines of between NT$300,000 and NT$1.5 million.
Taiwan is likely only the transshipment point because of the large number of pangolins found. The plan was probably to transfer the cargo to another ship intended for other nations in East Asia, an office section chief surnamed Kao (高) said.
“We believe the intended receiver in Taiwan is a go-between used to facilitate the transshipment as part of a network. The cargo was likely headed for China or Vietnam, where there is a known demand for pangolin meat,” Kao said.
“There is not such a big market for pangolin meat in Taiwan. People know it is a protected species and that it is illegal to eat pangolin, so any restaurant offering the meat is usually immediately reported to the authorities,” he said.
Customs officials are still unpacking the cargo and recording each item as evidence for the investigation, Kaohsiung Customs Office deputy director Lien Yung-chieh (連永杰) said.
The case and materials are to be turned over to the Kaohsiung District Prosecutors’ Office for further investigation.
Additional reporting by Jason Pan
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