|© Provided by AFP Chinese customs have seized over three tonnes of pangolin scales - an estimated 7,500 of the creatures could have been killed to make up the trafficked shipment|
Chinese customs seized over three tonnes of pangolin scales, state media said, in the country's biggest-ever smuggling case involving the animal parts.
Shanghai Customs found around 3.1 tonnes of pangolin scales mixed in with a container of wood products imported from Nigeria, state broadcaster CCTV reported Tuesday.
It estimated up to 7,500 of the creatures could have been killed.
The reclusive pangolin has become the most trafficked mammal on Earth due to soaring demand in Asia for their scales for traditional medicine and their flesh, considered a delicacy.
State media have previously said the scales fetch around 5,000 yuan ($700) per kilogram ($700) on the black market -- which would make the seizure worth more than $2 million.
Although the international pangolin trade is illegal in China and they are listed as one of the most-protected wild animals, law enforcement remains weak.
Pangolins are also farmed in the country and an online site selling traditional Chinese medicine offers them at 7,000 yuan per kilogram.
The scales are nothing more than keratin, the same substance that makes up fingernails. Yet it has been falsely touted as a cure for multiple ailments, including cancer, among some practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine.
Shanghai Customs arrested three suspects who were suspected of smuggling the scales from Africa since 2015, the report said.
China Announces Its Largest-Ever Seizure Of Trafficked Pangolin Scales
Chinese officials have seized 3.1 tonnes (more than 3.4 tons) of illegally trafficked pangolin scales from a port in Shanghai, according to state media.
It's the largest such seizure China has ever made, Xinhua News Agency reports.
Pangolins are the world's most widely trafficked mammals — their meat is a delicacy and their scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
All eight species of pangolin are facing extinction.
"The pangolin is about the size of a raccoon and looks like an artichoke with legs," NPR's Jackie Northam wrote last year. "Its head and body are covered with an armor of thorny scales, giving it the appearance of a reptile. When a pangolin is scared, it curls up into a tight ball."
This fall, commercial trade of the pangolin was "officially banned by the international body responsible for regulating the international trade of endangered species," as NPR's Rebecca Hersher reported.
Pangolins are now covered by "the strictest protections available under international law," she writes.
"In a statement following news of the international commercial ban, Elly Pepper, the deputy director of the Natural Resource Defense Council's wildlife trade initiative, wrote that the trade ban would 'give the world's most-trafficked mammal a fighting chance at survival.' "
The pangolin scales seized in Shanghai were mixed in with wood products shipped from Nigeria, Phys.org reports, citing state broadcaster CCTV.
The illicit animal parts were discovered on Dec. 10, the South China Morning Post reports, and authorities accuse the suspects of smuggling pangolin scales from Africa to China since 2015.
Approximately 5,000 to 7,500 pangolins must have been killed to produce the more than 3 tons of pangolin scales, Xinhua reports.
Based on reported black-market prices for the scales, the seized scales would have been worth more than $2 million, Phys.org says.
"The scales are nothing more than keratin, the same substance that makes up fingernails," the science news service writes. "Yet it has been falsely touted as a cure for multiple ailments, including cancer, among some practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine."