THE PANGOLIN PIT

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - COVER STORY -

Paul Hil­ton, UK/Aus­tralia, Win­ner, The Wildlife Pho­to­jour­nal­ist Award: Sin­gle im­age / Wildlife Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year

Noth­ing pre­pared Paul for what he saw: some 4000 de­frost­ing pan­golins (5 tons) from one of the largest seizures of the an­i­mals on record. They were des­tined for China and Viet­nam for the ex­otic meat trade or for tra­di­tional medicine (their scales are thought, wrongly, to treat a va­ri­ety of ail­ments). Pan­golins have be­come the world’s most traf­ficked an­i­mals. This il­le­gal trade, along with habi­tat loss and hunt­ing, means that the four Asian species are now en­dan­gered or crit­i­cally en­dan­gered, and Africa’s four species are head­ing that way. These mostly Sunda pan­golins, were part of a seizure – a joint op­er­a­tion be­tween In­done­sia’s po­lice and the World Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety – found in a con­tainer, ready for ex­port from Su­ma­tra. Also seized were 96 live pan­golins (des­tined to be force-fed to in­crease their size), along with 100 ki­los of pangolin scales, worth $1.8 mil­lion on the black mar­ket, and 24 bear paws. The dead pan­golins were driven to a spe­cially dug pit and then in­cin­er­ated. The live ones were re­leased in the rain­for­est. ‘Wildlife crime is big busi­ness,’ says Paul. ‘It will stop only when the de­mand stops.’

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