240217 pangolin scales confiscation

The humble, bumbling pangolin holds two very different records in the mammalian kingdom: it is the only mammal to grow scales, but it is also the most trafficked animal in the world.

While they have held the first title for tens of millions of years, they have held the second for less than a decade. In evolutionary terms, it has taken humans less than a minute to nearly wipe this ant-eating marvel from existence. Of the six (potentially seven) known species, all are threatened with extinction.

There is hope. While not the primary focus of Big Life operations, our rangers and intelligence teams are still doing their bit to protect them. Pangolins are extremely rare in Maasailand, but are occasionally spotted in Rombo, Taveta, and Tsavo.  

Last year, our intelligence teams got wind of suspects trafficking pangolin scales. After months of planning, they made their move in December and successfully arrested two men in Taveta with 3 kg of scales. Both were handed a $20,000 cash bail - a hefty sum. Then just last week, two additional suspects were arrested again in Taveta with 2.6 kg of scales and given a $10,000 cash bail.

Fortunately, the analysis suggests that the scales are a few years old, likely hidden after the last spate of arrests in 2021/22. The black-market value for these precious protective scales may be high, but the risk to those who seek to profit from them is far higher.  Thanks to the 24/7 presence of our rangers and intelligence teams, the threat of arrest is ever present, tipping the scales in favour of a species threatened with extinction.

Pangolin photo: Shaun Mousley