Nigeria Customs Service has busted a network of pangolin scales exporters, a prohibited animal product, after a raid of a house in Lagos.
The raid on 28 July was aided by the intelligence provided by the Wildlife Justice Commission.
It led to the arrest of three suspects and seizure of 196 sacks containing 7,137 kg of pangolin scales, 4.6 kg of pangolin claws and 846.34 kg of ivory.
All the wildlife products were destined for export, according to a statement released today by the Customs and the Wildlife Justice Commission.
Additional suspects are being sought in respect to this seizure, some of whom are believed to have already fled Nigeria.
This is the ninth largest seizure of pangolin scales in the last three years (2019-2021).
According to the statement, the arrested suspects are part of a well-known transnational criminal network operating in West Africa.
They are linked to approximately 50% of all major pangolin scale seizures over the past three years.
“These arrests have severely disrupted this network”, the statement said.
“The Wildlife Justice Commission wishes to congratulate Nigeria Customs for their quick response resulting in this outstanding outcome against a well-established transnational organised crime network,” said Steve Carmody, Wildlife Justice Commission Director of Programs.
“The truly horrific reality of this seizure is that even at seven tonnes, there were still eight other larger seizures in the last three years, and this network was responsible for at least half of them. We look forward to the arrest of the other wanted subjects and seeing proceeds of crime provisions applied to seize the ill-gotten gains of this network.”
Large-scale and sustained trafficking of pangolin scales, sourced for jewellery and as a component of traditional Chinese medicine, is driving the species to the brink of extinction.
The Wildlife Justice Commission had pointed out in recent reports that pangolin scales are increasingly substituted for, and trafficked alongside, ivory, a trend that the organisation already identified in 2019.
As ivory prices fall, traffickers are increasingly turning to pangolin scales; in combined shipments, the proportion of pangolin scales has surpassed the volume of ivory.
“This operation is a great example of how transnational wildlife crimes should be investigated and the tangible results that public-private partnerships can achieve by working together to disrupt organised crime,” said Carmody.
“This operation is a major victory for law enforcement and for the Wildlife Justice Commission, but we must acknowledge that other actors will rise to take the place of those recently arrested.
“The Wildlife Justice Commission will use the evidence gathered through this arrest to continue our investigations into the trafficking of endangered wildlife and support the efforts of law enforcement agencies fighting wildlife crime. It takes a network to defeat a network.”
Since it was established in 2015, the Wildlife Justice Commission has facilitated the arrest of 151 wildlife traffickers and the dismantling of 35 criminal networks.
The wildlife products seized during this operation represent the largest quantity of pangolin scales and second largest seizure of ivory ever facilitated by the organisation.