Pangolins are rare, adorable creatures that are covered with a layer of large scales meant to protect against predators. Unfortunately, their protective scales are also coveted by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, turning the pangolin into the most heavily trafficked mammal on the planet.
On Wednesday, customs officials in Shenzhen announced that back in July they had seized a staggering 11.9 tonnes of smuggled pangolin scales from a shipping container at a local port — a record-breaking haul in China. Officials believe that some 20,000 pangolins had been slaughtered in order to amass that many scales.
The scales were discovered inside a shipping container which was listed as being empty. However, officers became suspicious when they instead found the container full of charcoal. Upon further inspection, they discovered 239 bags stuffed with pangolin parts.
Two suspects have since been arrested.
Pangolin scales are thought to help cure cancer, asthma, and other ailments as part of traditional Chinese medicine, making the animal a favorite target of poachers. In addition, its meat is also highly prized as a delicacy in China, used at official banquets to impress VIP guests. Earlier this year, a Shenzhen woman became known as the “Pangolin Princess” after her taste for the adorable endangered animal got her noticed on Chinese social media and by the police.
Responding to threats to the animal’s survival, the pangolin received a total ban on international trade in all species under the strictest possible Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) protection last year. Meanwhile, it is a second-class nationally-protected animal in China. However, these designations don’t seem to have done much to stave off the scaly creature’s slaughter.
[Images via NetEase]