When rescuers got the call, their hearts dropped; another smuggling vehicle had been stopped. The authorities found what they suspected, and now they needed help with the contents. There was no time to waste; the rescuers sped to the scene, hoping they weren’t already too late.
The rescue group in question is Save Vietnam’s Wildlife (SVW), an organization officially founded on July 22, 2014. The SVW seeks to help not only animals endangered by habitat loss, but also those threatened by smuggling. Consequently, the latter problem recently saw them called into action.
That’s because on October 19, 2017, a vehicle travelling through Ninh Binh in Vietnam was pulled over by the authorities. What initially led them to intercept the vehicle is unclear; however, their hunch paid off. There was definitely something off about it, as they shortly discovered.
The targeted vehicle was a tourist bus, but they weren’t its only passengers. A search of the bus revealed that it carried a horrific cargo. It was indeed used as a smuggling vehicle, and the contents were stored in its undercarriage.
One of the discoveries was gruesome: a collection of frozen animal body parts. Alongside these were 101 plastic bags, the contents of which were concealed. A closer inspection revealed just what the parcels carried, and it must have broken the discoverers’ hearts.
The bags were full of live animals that were struggling to survive in their cruel containers. In total, there were 69 turtles and 32 pangolins – all bundled up like products in a warehouse. The good news, however, was that authorities found the animals in time.
Subsequently, they made a call to the SVW, which sent a team out to assist. When rescuers arrived on the scene, what they found disturbed them just as much as they had feared. The animals weren’t just wrapped in plastic bags.
In fact, some of the poor creatures were also suffering from a secondary containment method – mesh netting. SVW rescuers helped the authorities cut through these bonds, and fortunately, every single animal was alive. Understandably though, the experience had left them terrified.
This terror could be seen most clearly in the action of the pangolins. Like armadillos, they curl up when they’re scared. The rescue was recorded and uploaded to social media on October 23, 2017. It revealed the shocking conditions the animals had been subjected to, and it was miraculous they survived.
“The pangolins were found in tight plastic bags,” the video’s captions explained, “struggling for air and space. It took us a while to take a pangolin out; [there was just] layer after layer. [And they were] covered by their own poop and urine.”
But the rescuers did get them out, and when the pangolins realized they were safe, they even began to uncurl. Subsequently, SVW prepared them for transport; this time, in a much more humane way. Unfortunately, there were so many pangolins that “some had to share a box.”
“They all looked strong [compared] to our recent rescues,” SVW explained on the video. Furthermore, their Facebook post revealed that within hours, the pangolins were taken to its center for care. The turtles, meanwhile, were accepted by the Asian Turtle Program.
But why were the animals on the bus in the first place, and where were they headed? Indeed, that was the question on many lips, and the answer is a sinister one. The live cargo was being smuggled to east Asia to meet a terrible end.
Tragically, animals like the pangolin and turtle are in high demand on the black market. Once smuggled into Asia, they are either eaten as a delicacy or killed for use in traditional Eastern medicine. Pangolins are particularly sought after for their meat and scales.
In fact, practitioners believe the scales have medicinal uses that include aiding in lactation and curing palsy. However, there is no scientific evidence to back these beliefs. The result is that shy and harmless animals are torn from the wild, with so many killed that pangolins are on the verge of extinction.
As a consequence, smugglers aren’t concerned if their cargo dies, nor are they concerned with the welfare of the animal. Furthermore, approximately one million pangolins were trafficked in the past ten years, devastating the animal’s population. But it’s not just pangolins and turtles that are at risk.
The traditional Eastern medicine market threatens tigers, rhinos, elephants and many other kinds of endangered creatures. Not all believers focus on these cruel pursuits though. It’s worth noting that not all practitioners use animal parts; some deal with herbs and physical well-being.
For example, Chen Shilin – from the Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences – renounces the use of animal parts entirely. “It is merely a folk therapy,” he told Time on November 21, 2016. Meanwhile, authorities are making an increased effort to wrest control of the black market away from animal traffickers.
However, some believe that China’s economic boom in recent years has only increased the animal trade problem. Combined with a lack of local law enforcement policing the treatment of animals, it could be devastating to conservation. Time will tell which way the wind will blow.
But at least organizations such as SVW are doing everything they can to save endangered animals. For its part, it plans to reintroduce the rescued pangolins back into the wild as soon as possible. You can do your part to support it by visiting its website at savevietnamswildlife.org.