Date Published:

Friday, June 10, 2016 - 21:15

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) canine unit security personnel have seized 500 kilogrammes of pangolin scales at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi.

The unaccompanied consignment was seized on Wednesday night at KQ cargo area of JKIA by KWS canine team. Investigations officers from KWS headquarters were called in and secured a seizure notice from the Customs Department. The seized consignment is currently in KWS custody.

KWS Director General Kitili Mbathi this afternoon addressed a press conference at which he displayed the scales and reiterated KWS commitment to combating all forms of illegal wildlife trade.

He said the seizure was testament to commendable law enforcement efforts at both JKIA in Nairobi and Moi International Airport in Mombasa and Mombasa sea port.

He said: “We are happy with the outstanding performance of the Canine Unit and with support from partners intend to expand the unit. Criminals engaged in illegal wildlife trade will have to think twice before using Kenya as a transit point for their activities.”

Investigations on the origin and destination of the contraband consignment revealed that the scales originated from Conakry, Guinea and were destined for Laos in Asia.

Regional wildlife law enforcement agency Lusaka Agreement Task Force in collaboration with INTERPOL is coordinating more investigations into the seizure.

According to Mr. Namory Keita of CITES Management authority in Conakry Guinea (Ministry of Water, Forests and Environment) regarding the consignment, the entire Permit and all other documents accompanying the consignment are fake.

He said Guinea was suspended by CITES in 2012 and has not issued any CITES permit since then. Furthermore, he indicated that a Mr Diallo (who signed the permit) is not a permit signatory in Guinea.

A similar amount of pangolin scales was netted at the airport in March this year, whose origin was Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, destined for Bangkok, Thailand.

Just like the current seizure, the consignment was unaccompanied and was seized at JKIA. It had been declared as feathers. A seizure notice was issued by the Customs Department and the scales are in KWS custody.

Since the beginning of this year, KWS Canine Unit stationed JKIA has managed to make five seizures of pangolin scales ranging from 200 grams to half a tonne in an intensified mop-up exercise to rid the illegal trade of wildlife products.

Kenya Wildlife Service and other law enforcement agencies have put in place elaborate strategies to protect, conserve and curb the illegal trade of pangolin scales within the country. Recent statistics show that most trafficked pangolin scales come from West African countries and are usually destined to Asian countries. Most consignments that have been seized are on transit at JKIA and are usually unaccompanied.


Background information about Pangolins

Pangolins are shy, burrowing nocturnal mammals that are covered in tough, overlapping scales. The species vary in size from about 1.6kgs to a maximum of about 33kgs. These burrowing mammals eat ants and termites using an extraordinarily long, sticky tongue, and are able to quickly roll themselves up into a tight ball when threatened. They vary in colour from light to yellowish brown through olive to dark brown. Overlapping scales cover most of their bodies. These scales are made from keratin, the same protein that forms human hair and finger nails. Their scales grow throughout the life of a pangolin just like human hair.  They play a critical role in the wildlife food chain as burrowing animals.


There are eight different pangolin species that are found across Asia ( Indian pangolin, the Chinese or Formosan pangolin, the Malayan or Sunda pangolin, and the Palawan pangolin) and sub-Saharan Africa( Cape or ground pangolin, the tree pangolin, the giant pangolin, and the long-tailed pangolin). It is unknown how long pangolins can live in the wild, though there are reports of them living up to 20 years in captivity.

 Large concentrations of giant pangolins and tree pangolins are found in Uganda, Tanzania, and Western Kenya and parts of the Coast. The nocturnal and burrowing habits make it difficult to determine their exact numbers.

Diet and Reproduction

Pangolins live predominantly on a diet of ants and termites, which they may supplement with various other invertebrates including bee larvae, flies, worms, earthworms, and crickets. This specialist diet makes them extremely difficult to maintain in captivity.

Male and female pangolin sexes differ in weight. In most species, males are 10-50 percent heavier than females. Pangolins reach sexual maturity at two years, and most pangolins give birth to a single offspring, though two and three young have been reported in the Asian species. Gestation periods range from 65-70 days (Indian pangolin) to 139 days.


Pangolins are on the path to extinction in Asia, but this has not quelled the appetite for this unusual creature, the most heavily trafficked mammal in the world which is prized for the traditional medicinal value of its scales and meat. In most Asian countries the pangolins are critically endangered and with their population dwindling traffickers have now invaded the African population thus putting them in danger of extinction.

Pangolins are on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix II which requires permits by relevant authorities for movement or trade across international borders. An estimated 100,000 pangolins are killed each year for their scales leading to fears of potential extinction.

Kenya and Nigeria, with support from the USA, have submitted a proposal to list all pangolins on Appendix I for consideration at the forthcoming 17th Conference of the Parties to CITES (CITES CoP17) to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 24 September to 5 October 2016. offer them the highest level of protection.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was established in 1973, entered into force in 1975, and accords varying degrees of protection to more than 35,000 species of animals and plants.  Currently, 182 countries are Parties to the Convention. The 17th Conference of the Parties to CITES (CITES CoP17) will be held in Johannesburg from 24 September to 5 October 2016. The Conference meets every three years.