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Wildlife Trade Specialists

Some of the 8.8 tonnes of African elephant ivory seized in Singapore Image courtesy National Parks Board, Singapore

Some of the 8.8 tonnes of African elephant ivory seized in Singapore Image courtesy National Parks Board, Singapore

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Published 23rd July 2019

Singapore makes record-breaking African ivory and pangolin seizure

Singapore, 23rd July 2019—Singapore today announced a record seizure of pangolin scales and ivory tusks made last weekend after authorities there uncovered three containers filled with 11.9 tonnes of pangolin scales and 8.8 tonnes of elephant ivory that were shipped from the DRC and headed for Viet Nam. 


The seizure took place after China Customs officers shared relevant intelligence with the Singapore authorities following the recent arrest of 12 people on suspicion of wildlife trafficking in China.

“We warmly welcome this example of international enforcement co-operation, which is essential if the activities of wildlife traffickers are to be curtailed, while collaborative follow up investigations should provide real insight into the organised crime gang involved,” said Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC. 

The pangolin scales were packed into sacks

Singapore’s National Parks Board (NParks), Customs and the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) inspected the shipment that was said to contain timber, according to the bill of lading. 

A NParks press release said the scales were assessed to be from close to 2,000 Giant Ground Pangolins Smutsia gigantea while the ivory would have derived from hundreds of African Elephants Loxodonta africana.

This is Singapore’s largest seizure of elephant ivory to date, eclipsing their previous record of 7.12 tonnes in 2002, which was long considered the largest ivory seizure worldwide since 1989 when detailed record keeping began. The 237 bags of scales found on Sunday brings the total to 37.5 tonnes of African pangolin scales seized in the island nation this year alone.

TRAFFIC’s data analysis showed key Southeast Asian countries from 2017 to 2019 where shipments of illicit wildlife products exported from DRC were destined or intercepted as Malaysia, Viet Nam, Thailand, with Singapore recently joining the list. 

Viet Nam’s role has once again been thrown into sharp relief: the country topped the list, receiving a total of over 20 tonnes of trafficked ivory and pangolin scales, including a single seizure of 9.1 tonnes of African elephant tusks discovered in Da Nang’s Tien Sa port in March 2019 from the Matadi port in the DRC—the largest ivory seizure on record globally. 

The DRC’s role as a critical exit point from Africa is also highlighted following the Singapore enforcement action. Over 66 tonnes of illicit ivory and pangolin scale shipments seized worldwide between 2017–2019 originated from the DRC. At least 2,469 kg of ivory and pangolin scales were also seized within the DRC in 2017 and 2018, in 17 incidents.

The seized ivory tusks

Such seizures, including the latest in Singapore, point to the persistence of large-scale trafficking in ivory and pangolins from Africa to Southeast Asia. Apart from Sunday’s seizure, Singapore has seized close to 30 tonnes of pangolin scales and ivory from just four incidents since 2018, all of which originated from Nigeria and were reportedly heading to Viet Nam. 

“Clearly, Singapore has remained vigilant since it made massive back-to-back pangolin scale seizures in April this year and is commended for this major seizure,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Director of TRAFFIC’s Southeast Asia programme office.

“The scale and persistence of trafficking into Southeast Asia is frightening. But seizures like these are an important piece of the puzzle in determining if the illegal trade is being fed by recently poached animals or old stocks.”

“Singapore can lead by example and undertake a thorough forensic examination of the seized products to determine their age and origin: this will help enormously in revealing those directly involved in the trafficking, while we welcome last week’s Financial Action Task Force announcement to prioritise wildlife trafficking—following the money could lead directly to those pulling the strings behind the scenes.”