While no one likes a nosy neighbor, there are times when other people’s intrusion can actually save the day. Such was the case recently with one home in Madagascar that was drawing a lot of negative attention from the surrounding community.
Nothing seemed odd about the building except one thing: it gave off a horrible stench that was not going away. The neighbors finally had enough, and they called the police to the home. Upon arriving, officers had no idea they were about to stumble upon a heartbreaking scene…
In April 2018, authorities in Toliara, Madagascar, were called to investigate a house in the area. Neighbors had been making complaints about the residence, claiming that a mysterious—and overpowering—stink was emanating from the building.
Realizing that the source of the strange odor could relate to an animal intrusion—and could be dangerous—the police brought along several individuals from a local wildlife agency, including the chief herself, Soary Randrianjafizanaka.
Due to the political unrest in Madagascar, the police had no idea what they were going to find behind the doors of the two-story building. So you can imagine their shock when they broke inside and discovering a floor teeming with thousands of tortoises!
The horrible smell that was reportedly coming from the building was even more intense inside the house. The stench, Soary and her colleagues deduced, was from the urine and feces of these reptiles.
“You cannot imagine,” Soary began in an interview with National Geographic. “It was so awful. They had tortoises in the bathroom, in the kitchen, everywhere in the house.” It was, needless to say, a complete mess.
Soary and her team were so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of living creatures that they didn’t notice which type of the animal they were dealing with at first. Once they identified the reptiles, it added another twist in this already strange tale…
Soary and her team discovered that these were radiated tortoises, a species that was currently endangered! Not only that, but the team counted more than 11,000 of them struggling to survive in these foul conditions.
After calling in for reinforcements, Soary and her team managed to transport all of the radiated tortoises to safety. With the help of the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), it took six trucks and dozens of trips back and forth to move them into a local animal reserve.
Tragically, not every tortoise made it out alive. More than 200 dead radiated tortoises were found in the house. Meanwhile, the living tortoises were cleaned up and treated for dehydrated at the sanctuary…
Even though buying and selling radiated tortoises is illegal in more than 180 different countries, poachers still hunt down the creatures for their beautiful shells. They also try to sell the tortoise meat on the black market.
Sadly, there are just three million radiated tortoises left on planet Earth. Studies also reveal that, in the past 30 years alone, their numbers have dropped by more than 75 percent.
These tortoises are being harvested at a rate that could wipe out the species. In fact, if something doesn’t change very soon, experts indicate that the radiated tortoise could be extinct in under 20 years!
Tragically, even after they were removed, another 300 of these rescued radiated tortoises lost their lives, either due to infections or severe cases of dehydration. Thankfully, the remaining tortoises were back on the path to wellness.
“I don’t think the word ‘overwhelming’ comes close to describing what the [TSA] is dealing with here,” stated a press release from the organization in April 2018. “We are in ‘an all hands on deck’ mentality right now.”
“Fortunately, due to our strong relationship with the zoo community, the TSA is well positioned to respond to crises such as this,” the press release continued. But there was still a possible downside…
“The support we continue to receive from the global conservation community has been incredible. And we are extremely thankful for the multitude of individuals and organizations that have come forward with donations and supplies,” said a TSA representative. “Yet, the long-term financial impacts to our Madagascar program is potentially crippling.”
Luckily, the people of Madagascar weren’t about to give up. Local zoos and other accredited facilities were happy to stand up and help take on the burden of caring for these radiated tortoises…
There was another silver lining, too: three individuals were arrested for this crime, including the person who owned the house where the tortoises were being kept. Two of the perpetrator’s people were even caught burying dead tortoises at the house!
That said, Soary and her team were still following leads—and this case was far from being considered closed. “I don’t know who this big boss is,” said Soary, “but we will not rest until we find out who is responsible for this scheme.”
As for the rescued tortoises, they would remain safe for now. They were all being nurtured back to a state of health, at which point the idea of releasing them back into the wild could be considered.
Just like when the Madagascar force called in Saory’s team for help, police often have to rely on their gut instincts when a situation just doesn’t feel right. That’s why when an officer does act on their feelings of apprehension, they often intercept a crime.
So when Guangxi police officers noticed that a car with only two riders was sitting unusually low to the ground, the immediately took an interest. Something just didn’t seem quite right, so they decided to stop the vehicle.
Suspecting something was amiss—drugs? Weapons?—they performed an emergency search of the car, uncovering a hidden panel in the process. When they saw what was inside, however, they couldn’t believe their eyes…
Underneath the seats were 39 live pangolins. Pangolins are small mammals that are sometimes described as “scaly anteaters.” They’re actually the only known species of mammal on Earth that has scales—and these little guys, in particular, were in serious danger!
In Malay, “pangolin” roughly translates to “roller,” which describes their habit of rolling up into a ball when threatened. That’s certainly what they must have done when they were taken by the criminals. But what were these men planning to do with them?
After all, pangolins are sweet, solitary, nocturnal creatures who live in holes and hollowed-out trees. They typically feed on ants and termites. Despite their noxious odor, they are pretty much harmless to humans. So what were they doing in this car?
Tragically, pangolins are exceptionally rare, and they’re listed somewhere between “vulnerable” and “critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. And one of the reasons their numbers are dwindling is heartbreaking…
It’s a sad truth, but in today’s society, the pangolin is actually the most trafficked animal in the entire world. That puts them ahead of rhinos, tigers, and even elephants, which are all in the top five on the list of illegally traded animals.
All of these animals are commonly trafficked for various reasons. For instance, an elephant’s teeth, hair, bones, tail, trunk, and ivory tusks are all coveted items. But what would anyone want with a tiny, little pangolin?
Sadly, pangolin meat is actually considered a delicacy in some Asian cultures. This is partly due to ancient-held beliefs that pangolin scales are capable of helping to cure certain diseases, like asthma and even cancer.
In addition to their alleged medicinal properties, pangolins are also incredibly difficult to capture. They often require a lot of effort on the poacher’s behalf, making even small shipments come with a lucrative reward.
Unfortunately, as a result, there have been frequent cases of poaching and illegal pangolin shipments from Indonesia to China in recent years. This is something the border authorities are certainly aware of, too.
Over the past decade, officials have started cracking down more on the illegal transportation of pangolins. In one case, authorities were able to seize upwards of 10 tons of pangolin meat from a Chinese ship.
In another case, border officials in Laos had a run-in with a man who was attempting to cross into Thailand with several crates in tow. When authorities detained the man and searched the cargo, they made a shocking discovery…
Each crate was packed with a number of blue bags. As they inched closer, the authorities noticed the sacks started to move. When they opened them, they were appalled to find pangolins inside each of them!
In total, there were 81 pangolins stuffed into the blue bags and placed in crates. Though the smugglers were stopped before the animals were slaughtered and traded, sadly, some of the pangolins had already suffocated during the several weeks-long trek.
In the case of the 39 pangolins found in the hidden compartment of the car, one of the drivers fled the scene and was still at large. He undoubtedly knew the severity of the punishment he’d have gotten if charges were pressed.
Luckily, the border patrol officers managed to arrest the other poacher who was in the car. Hopefully, both were brought to justice and authorities could help end the pangolin trade for good.
Sadly, as long as pangolin meat remains in demand, this unique creature will be in grave danger of becoming extinct. That is unless humans take more active measures to protect them…
With enough awareness and vigilance, pangolins may be able to thrive throughout their various territories once again. From Customs officials to police officers, China is really leading the way on this critical conservation effort.
These customs officials in Shenzhen, China, flagged a suspicious cargo container that had arrived in Yantian District’s port. It came through unconventional channels without the right paperwork, which was already enough to raise a red flag.
They were told that the shipping container was empty, but the officers from the Dapeng Customs Anti-Smuggling Branch didn’t believe that for one minute. They knew they had to inspect the inside…
They broke the lock on the shipping container and immediately noticed that it was filled to the brim with blue-and-red-striped bags. They sliced open one of the bags and discovered it was full of coal. But if coal was all these bags were carrying, why try to keep it a secret?
The investigating officers decided to look a little bit more closely at these bags. They pulled out each sack, and before they were even halfway through they noticed an unforgettable smell: the sickly odor of decay.
Before the investigators proceeded any further, they needed to consider their own health and safety. So, they called in quarantine officers to supervise as they unpacked the rest of the sacks. What they found left them feeling sick to their stomachs…
The contents of the bags were mind-boggling, and the investigators were quick to reveal their findings to the public. “Our preliminary inspection determined they were pangolin scales,” the officials reported. In total, the bags contained 13.1 tons of pangolin scales.
This wasn’t just a huge amount of scales; in fact, it was the largest bust of illegal pangolin byproducts ever made by Chinese officials. Specialists speculated that these scales had to come from a whopping 30,000 pangolins!
Pangolins, which look similar to armadillos, are the most trafficked animal in the world. Because of poaching and smuggling, this creature is perilously endangered—and it was a bad sign that so many of their scales were discovered in these shipping crates.
Pangolins tend to curl up into little balls when they feel scared or threatened. This makes them all too easy for traffickers to scoop up and sell. So, why are they frequently smuggled? And why are their scales so valuable?
It may be because of the role they play in traditional Chinese medicine. Even though there is no scientific evidence to support it, many people in China believe that ingesting pangolin scales can cure a number of illnesses, like asthma, arthritis, and even cancer.
The illegal pangolin trade can earn dealers up to 10 years in prison. Though the pangolin has been granted protection by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, their numbers are still rapidly depleting.
Unfortunately, investigators in the case of these shipping crates didn’t have much to work with when it came to identifying the criminals responsible. The only information available was the name “XIA × HUA” written on the shipping forms.
Investigators called in a team dedicated to shutting down smuggling operations. The experts identified the pangolin scales as being African in origin. Using the name on the shipment and this location, they narrowed down the list of potential suspects…
The initial list of suspects contained dozens of potential leads for investigators, and they were vigilant in researching each one. In the process, they ruled out many possible suspects—and they eventually arrested two men named He and Li.
Li was a known smuggler who had successfully evaded capture for years. He completely denied having anything to do with the scales—even when photographs of them were found on his cell phone. He chalked this up to having bought his phone secondhand.
At first, the investigators thought that Li had them in between a rock and a hard place. If he could prove that the phone was purchased secondhand, then there was no way they could hold him in custody without more evidence of his involvement in the crime.
However, for someone so experienced at committing crimes, Li had made one serious mistake: In a photograph of the scales, the photographer had also accidentally captured an image of his foot! His foot had an identifying trait, too: a mole.
Investigators discovered that Li and He had been partners for quite some time. The two had made an astounding $758,000 in business dealings together. Li was responsible for shipping the product, while He was responsible for seeing that it was sold.
After their arrest, the criminals and their proceedings were reported to the General Administration of Customs. While Li and He were definitely collaborating with each other, there was no way of knowing how many other illegal operators were involved.
Serious efforts may be underway to protect the species, but it’s still not enough. Even though He and Li were intercepted, there are many others that are still trying to profit off pangolins.