TUARAN: Sabah police and wildlife enforcement team have uncovered a local pangolin smuggling syndicate which has been operating for seven years in Kota Kinabalu and Tuaran districts.

The syndicate was also involved in the processing of meats and skins of the fully protected animal.

Two days ago, police and enforcement team from the Sabah Wildlife Department raided a factory at Jalan Sepanggar, Kota Kiabalu, and a warehouse in Kampung Bontoi, Jalan Tamparuli, here, and seized live pangolins, frozen pangolins, pangolin scales and meat worth RM8.4 million.

Sabah police commissioner Datuk Omar Mammah said the joint operation was carried out following a tip-off on pangolin meat and skin processing and smuggling activities in the state capital.

“We raided a factory (at Jalan Sepanggar) and found animal meat believed from pangolins which were processed and frozen inside six freezers. We also discovered several live pangolins in cages and 10 gunny sacks of pangolin scales.

“We detained a local man, aged 35, who was at the factory,” Omar told reporters at a press conference here today.

Also present were Sabah Wildlife director Augustine Tuuga and Kota Kinabalu police chief Assistant Commissioner Habibi Majinji.

Omar said the team also inspected a Proton Persona car and found 35 live pangolins kept inside the car boot. Two gunny sacks of pangolin scales and a digital weighing device were also found.

Following the first raid, he said the suspect led police and the wildlife enforcement team to a warehouse at Kampung Bontoi here, where they discovered three containers loaded with boxes containing pangolin meat.

Omar said all seizures from both factory and warehouse, consist of 61 live pangolins, 361 kilogrammes of pangolin scales, and 1,860 boxes of pangolin meat, with each box weighing 15 kg.

“Each kilogramme is valued at RM300. In the raids, we also seized two sun bear legs and four frozen carcasses believed to be flying fox. All seizures and arrest were taken to the Tuaran police headquarters for further action by the wildlife department,” he said.

Speaking further on the syndicate, Omar said investigation revealed that the arrested man acted as manager of the factory in Sepanggar, which was believed to have started operation seven years ago.

He said the man bought all the pangolins from local illegal hunters, adding that the protected animals were believed caught in the state and sent over to the factory to be processed and packed in boxes.

“Investigation also revealed that all pangolins are for the local market and Sarawak. We do not rule out the possibility that these pangolins are exported to other countries,” he said, stressing investigation was ongoing to track down other individuals involved in the syndicate.

Meanwhile, Tuuga said the department had not conducted an in-depth research on the population of pangolins in the state.

“So far, our pangolin research is focused in the Kinabatangan district following its low population rate (in the district). They are only found in certain areas, which have become the location of poachers.

“We have upgraded the status of pangolin to Schedule 1 (totally protected species) in 2016. This case is being investigated under Section 41 (1) of the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 for possession of protected animals and animal products,” he said.

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Sabah police and wildlife enforcement team have uncovered a local pangolin smuggling syndicate which has been operating for seven years in Kota Kinabalu and Tuaran districts. NSTP/EDMUND SAMUNTING