PEKANBARU (AFP) - Indonesian authorities have seized more than 100 pangolins, all of them alive, an official said Wednesday (Oct 25), a haul of the critically endangered species that conservationists estimate to be worth about US$1.5 million.
Indonesian officials discovered the pangolins on Tuesday in a raid on a fishing boat off the east coast of Sumatra island, the navy said in a press statement.
Authorities were tipped off by local residents who said men were attempting to smuggle the scaly mammals to Malaysia.
Pangolins - docile animals with a thick armour - are indigenous to parts of Southeast Asia and Africa and are the world's most trafficked mammal.
Two men, aged 22 and 25, were arrested after they confessed they were paid money to transport the pangolins to Malaysia.
If found guilty the suspects could face maximum five years in prison or a Rp 100 million (S$10,035) fine for violating Indonesia's conservation law.
"We received 101 live pangolins seized by the navy yesterday (Tuesday) but four of them later died," said the head of a local conservation agency.
The seized pangolins will be released in the nearest national park, said Mahfudz, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
Dwi Adhiasto, from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which works with Indonesian authorities to halt wildlife crime, said the shipment was worth about US$25,000 wholesale, but could fetch as much as US$1.5 million when sold internationally.
In June, naval officers discovered 223 live pangolins, 24 of which were already dead, as well as nine large bags of pangolin scales in a warehouse near Medan, North Sumatra.
Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in China and their scales are sometimes used in the production of crystal methamphetamine.
Soaring demand for the reclusive creature has seen an estimated one million pangolins snatched from Asian and African forests over the past decade, sending their numbers to perilous lows.