BANGKOK (AP) — Thai authorities said Thursday they have seized more than a ton of pangolin scales worth over 50 million baht ($1.4 million) that are believed to have been headed out of the country through a land border.
The scales that cover a type of anteater were found Wednesday night in the northeastern province of Kalasin, and apparently were meant to be transported out through Mukdahan province, which shares a border with Laos, Thai police said at a news conference in Bangkok on Thursday.
Two male suspects, who were on a truck with the scales, were arrested and charged with the illegal possession of carcasses of protected animals, according to Ariyapol Sinsorn, the deputy chief of the Natural Resources and Environmental Crime Division. The two men confessed to the charges, he said.
The pangolin scales, which have an estimated price of around 40,000 baht ($1,129) per kilogram, are suspected to have been brought from Malaysia to Thailand, to be transported to Laos. From there, it was apparently headed for sale to clients in China, said Kamnuan Chan-anan, a regional deputy chief of the environmental crime division. He said a further investigation is being conducted to determine the route of transport.
The scales, displayed during the news conference in Bangkok on Thursday, were dried and contained in fertilizer sacks bearing a Chinese character and different numbers. The authorities said they suspect the numbers are used for marking the quality of the scales.
The amount of scales is estimated to come from at least 3,000-4,000 dead pangolins, wildlife protection official Prasert Sonsatahpornkul said, adding that the scales will be tested to find out the species of the pangolins.
Pangolins are endangered and it is illegal to trade them. The animal’s scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine and contain keratin, a protein also found in rhino horn, though there is no scientific proof that they provide any medicinal value. Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in Vietnam and some parts of China.
Demand for pangolin scales and meat has led to rampant poaching that is decimating populations across Asia.
In 2017, the authorities revealed two major operations that successfully busted about three tons of pangolin scales and more than 100 live pangolins in Thailand.