A pair of pangolin-smuggling ‘businessmen’ have escaped maximum punishment in Malaysia.

Nearly a year after being busted, two men in Malaysia have been convicted of illegally possessing pangolins and it seems having an ‘elderly mother’ to take care of may have won them both a more lenient sentencing.

Last week, 24 year-old Ang Kean Tat and 41 year-old Khor Kim Seah were ordered by a Sessions Court judge to serve a single day in jail and pay a fine amounting to RM 100,000 (nearly US $32,900) each, according to The Star Online.

The criminals — who are said to be employed ‘businessmen’ — were both arrested at the same location on 24 February, 2011.

The report claims officials found Tat with 45 pangolins hidden in his modified vehicle, while they nabbed Seah with 62 of the animals in another altered car and additional 28 he had stashed on the premises where the bust was made.

Both were indicted for contravening Malaysia’s Wildlife Conservation Act — Tat on one charge and Seah on two for each of the hauls authorities seized from him.

Defense attorney requested judge to go easy on the crooks

Although the crime they committed is punishable by a prison sentence of up to three years, a fine of RM 50,000-100,000 (US $16,439-$32,878), or both, the smugglers’ defense attorney, Sudesh Singh, argued for the judge to go easy on them.

He reportedly explained that the men were first time offenders and that both had ‘elderly mothers’ and family to take care of, seemingly ignoring that both of the men apparently had jobs in some line of business.

Singh’s justification essentially implies that people who illegally kill, sell, or transport endangered pangolins to make ends meet should not be heavily penalized.

Unfortunately, most of the lower-ranking criminals involved in wildlife trade would argue the same, despite the fact that this nefarious industry is increasingly lucrative at all levels.

Contrary to the defense council’s argument, Deputy public prosecutor, Nurdeenie Abdul Rashid, recommended that the judge deliver a sentence that would send a strong message to others involved in the illicit pangolin trade.

Indeed, harsh punishments will certainly aid in deterring these activities and would clarify that they are illegal, unacceptable, and directly lending to the fast-approaching extinction of the scaly anteaters.

Pangolin crisis worsens

As an estimated 40,000 (and perhaps as many as 60,000) pangolins were poached from the wild in 2011 alone, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the insatiable demand for these animals’ flesh, skin, scales, blood, and other body parts is the leading factor driving the toothless insectivores toward extinction.

The demand for scaly anteaters stems primarily from China and Vietnam, where the flesh of adults and fetuses is considered a delicacy and traditional Chinese medicine consumers superstitiously believe ingesting concoctions derived from pangolin scales can reduce swelling, improve liver function, promote weight loss, stimulate blood circulation, and enhance lactation in breast-feeding women, among other things.

There is no scientific evidence to support any of the medicinal claims made about pangolin body parts.

Rhino horn and pangolin scales, much like our own hair and nails, are chiefly composed of keratin and studies have repeatedly shown rhino horn to be void of any curative properties.

Read more about the illicit trade in pangolins here.

China’s ‘medicinal pangolin’ farms stimulating the illegal trade?

Numerous disturbing articles, photos, and a video found on the internet suggest people in China have been farming these endangered animals solely to supply the traditional medicine market.

In fact, one popular Chinese business blog even instructs on how to capture pangolins from the wild, specifically for these controversial ‘farming’ business endeavors.

Read about it here.

Author: Sarah Pappin. Read more about Sarah here.

Image via Flickr/Soggydan