BEIJING • Nearly 12 tonnes of smuggled pangolin scales have been confiscated by Chinese officials, the country's largest-ever seizure of the endangered mammal's prized parts as it seeks to curb illegal trafficking.
The pangolin, whose brown scales have earned it the nickname "scaly anteater", is the most hunted animal in the world, with one million estimated to have been plucked from Asian and African forests over the past decade.
The latest stockpile of scales was seized at a port in the southern city of Shenzhen in July and likely taken from between 20,000 to 30,000 slaughtered pangolins, state media reported on Wednesday.
The state-run China Daily newspaper said this marked the "largest volume of any single case found by border inspectors". Police have arrested two suspects, surnamed Li and He, who used fake names to register their packages for import.
The suspects used charcoal-stuffed bags to cover nearly 250 sacks of pangolin scales.
On Li's mobile phone, police found photos of pangolin scales that were taken in an African country. He claimed to have bought the phone secondhand before being taken in for questioning in September.
But an investigator noticed a mole on Li's left foot matched one that appeared on a foot in one of the photos with the pangolin scales. Investigators also found deals totalling more than 5 million yuan (S$1 million) between Li and He, who took the same flight to an unnamed African country.
Pangolins are under state protection in China, where some believe the animal's scales have medicinal qualities, despite no scientific evidence to support the claim. Eating pangolins is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.