By Hillary Leung
July 23, 2019

Singapore said Tuesday it confiscated 8.8 tonnes of elephant ivory in a record bust.

The city-state, often a stopover in the illegal wildlife trade, caught the haul in a container en route from the DR Congo to Vietnam. Officially, the shipment was supposed to contain timber.

The ivory, worth more than $12.9 million, was packed into 132 bags and estimated to have come from nearly 300 African elephants, according to a joint statement by the country’s National Parks Board, Customs and the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority.

“Singapore has always been inadvertently implicated in the global ivory trade for two reasons: its global connectivity, as well as the presence of a small domestic market where pre-1990s ivory can be legally sold,” Kim Stengert, chief communications officer for WWF Singapore told Reuters.

The same shipment also contained a massive haul of pangolin scales, Singapore’s third major bust involving the world’s most trafficked mammals this year. Authorities said they seized 11.9 tonnes of scales, worth $35.7 million and equivalent to around 2,000 pangolins.

In April, the country intercepted two separate shipments of pangolin scales in less than week. Demand for the nocturnal, anteater-like creature mostly comes from China, where its scales feature in traditional medicine as a supposed cure for skin diseases, asthma and rheumatism.

According to Singapore’s statement, the latest July 21 bust followed a tip-off from China’s customs department.

Both elephants and pangolins are protected species under the the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which aims to ensure international trade does not threaten any species’ survival.

Singapore’s bust comes amid a string of endangered animal parts seizures in Asia. In March, 9.1 tonnes of ivory were confiscated in Vietnam, a haul believed to be one the largest ever globally. In January, authorities in Hong Kong busted a smuggling operation involving 8.3 tonnes of pangolin scales.

Write to Hillary Leung at hillary.leung@time.com.

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