China & Hong Kong: Insights into a syndicate

Sad news in our team. A new investigation. A podcast teaser.

Criminal syndicates in Africa and Asia are working together — and competing — to meet the seemingly insatiable demand for pangolins in China and other markets.

Over the past year, more than 40 journalists in 15 countries and territories have conducted a joint investigation on how illegal pangolin trafficking is leading the species to become extinct.


This edition of our newsletter begins with sad news:

Our colleague Tommy Apriando has passed away from complications of diabetes. He was 31. This is a huge loss for us and for the wider journalism community in Indonesia. Tommy was deeply passionate about the environment and driven by an innate urgency to expose wrongdoing. He was also fearless. 

Tommy’s passing is a reminder to all of us that life is short and fragile, and that we should use our limited time to make this world a little bit better.

Please read his work for Mongabay Indonesia and celebrate his legacy. 


Yesterday, our colleagues Karen Zhang and Xu Jiaming published their investigation into a Chinese wildlife smuggling syndicate.  

According to court documents in mainland China, the group smuggled at least three shipments of more than four tonnes of pangolin scales worth 3.8 million yuan (US$547,500) from Nigeria to China, with the cargo going through South Korea and Hong Kong.

Based on interviews, including with smugglers, and court records, Karen and Jiaming pieced together a picture of how the syndicate sourced its illicit supplies in Africa and had them shipped over by sea, and used couriers to transport pangolin scales by air.

Read their investigative report in The South China Morning Post.

Any leads we should look at? Any suggestions on how to follow up? Get in touch by responding to this email.


Now something to look forward to: Next Friday, the first of three episodes of a fantastic podcast series by Sustainable Asia will go online. It’ll take you with our journalists in Myanmar and elsewhere in South East Asia as they go undercover to investigate the pangolin trade.

Also, we’ll be featured in an episode of StoryFM, the leading Chinese-language podcast series.

We’ll share details and links next week.


Here are our earlier newsletters: 

IntroductionQ&AChinaCameroonNigeriaMalaysiaThai-Malaysian borderIndonesiaPhilippinesIndiaNepalHong KongVietnamTaiwanChina againour IJNet profile, the investigative storybook in Malaysiaa two-part report from Palawanour latest report from Myanmar, and local editions in Indonesia and Belgium.