Operation Pluto

The trafficking of pangolin scales from West Africa to Vietnam

In April 2018, the Wildlife Justice Commission launched Operation Pluto and began investigating a number of networks supplying pangolin scales with links from West Africa to Vietnam.

Pangolins are the most trafficked mammals in the world. It is estimated that one million pangolins have been taken from the wild and trafficked during the past decade, which is the equivalent to one pangolin every five minutes.

With increased analytical capacity, we mapped the supply chain to identify and engage with key individuals. This enabled us to gain specific intelligence of where a substantial quantity of pangolins scales was being held in Vietnam, which we reported to the Environmental Police.

In September 2018, the Environmental Police arrested one suspect and seized 780 kg of pangolin scales in Hanoi, which equals approximately 2,080 pangolins.

This case is the first concerning pangolin scales of this volume that the Environmental Police in Vietnam has worked on. It highlights the trust that the agency has put in the WJC as they were willing to react to our information in a time-critical manner.

Watch this undercover video of Operation Pluto, where traders rummage through large sacks containing pangolin scales while talking about price per kg and payment methods.