Wildlife authorities here are seeking samples of the eight tonnes of pangolin scales that was confiscated on July 29 by State Customs Department to determine if any is of local origin.
Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said that while they knew about the seizure since last week, they had no part in the investigations and have yet to obtain a sample.
“We are not involved in the investigations so we do not know where they came from. We will not know unless there is a DNA analysis,” he told Malay Mail Online.
He added that there was a possibility they came from Africa, as there was a similar seizure of pangolin scales and ivory tusks during the same period at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).
“They will take action under their law but we will also take if they can hand over the case to us after they are done with it,” he said.
Although there have been several cases of pangolin seizures in Sabah over the years, both alive and scales, experts say the scales in this case could come from any of the existing eight species, and not necessarily from Sabah.
Danau Girang Field Centre director Benoit Goossens who said that the seizure was a tragedy that if allowed to continue, could wipe out the species in five years, said that it would be very possible to determine the origins of the pangolin scales if they could obtain a sample.
“This is something we can determine using DNA and forensics at our Sabah Wildlife Health, Genetic and Forensic Laboratory in Kota Kinabalu that was established by Sabah Wildlife Department, Danau Girang Field Centre and a EcoHealth Alliance in 2013.
“If Sabah Wildlife Department is given access to the seized scales, we could perform some genetic tests,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Sabah pangolin researcher Elisa Panjang said that she hoped the sample could be taken soon as they have been in possession by the Customs Department for almost two weeks.
“They won’t deteriorate because it is just scales and no blood. But they still need to be checked regularly as they can be eaten by rats and ants,” she told Malay Mail Online.
Her early observation was that the scales were likely taken from the Sunda pangolins, found all over South-east Asia and Palawan pangolin, found in Palawan, the Philippines only.
“They could be stockpiled from neighbouring countries before being shipped to China. What I know for sure is that the scales are not all from just Sabah. I really hope they perform the genetic study,” she said.
In the latest of a spate of wildlife seizures, Sabah Customs foiled an attempt to smuggle 8,000kg of pangolin scales packed into 226 sacks in two containers awaiting shipment to China on July 29.
In the last few months, pangolin scales between 300 and 700 kg were seized at KLIA, mostly from Africa.
The most recent seizure was on July 30 in KLIA, where authorities found six sacks containing 300.9kg of pangolin scales worth RM3.9 million, shipped from the Democratic Republic of Congo on Ethiopian Airlines.