Customs finds 3 tons of pangolin scales

An undated photo, released Wednesday, shows Shanghai customs officers checking pangolin scales at a port in Shanghai. Chinese customs seized over three tonnes of pangolin scales, state media said, in the country's biggest-ever smuggling case involving the animal parts. Photo: Getty Images

Three people have been caught smuggling more than 3 tons of scales of endangered pangolins.

This is the largest smuggling case of pangolin scales spotted by Chinese Customs, city officials said yesterday.

Pangolins, one of the most trafficked mammals in Asia and increasingly Africa, are in large demand in central, east and southeast Asia in particular, according to World Wild Life. The meat is considered a delicacy and the scales often used in traditional medicines.

Shanghai Customs officials said a container imported from Africa was found concealing other products among the declared timbers in a machine examination on December 10.

After opening the container, officers found a total of 101 bags of pangolin scales, weighing 3.1 tons.

It is estimated that about 5,000 to 7,500 pangolins would have been killed to produce such an amount, the Customs authority said.

But this case might be just a tip of an iceberg. The Customs authority later found the suspects had been buying pangolin scales from Africa and smuggling them to China since 2015. Further investigation is under way.

All eight species of pangolins have been listed in Appendix I of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the most endangered among CITES-listed animals and plants and any international commercial trade is forbidden.

Pangolin scales are believed some people to have health benefits, such as helping women to lactate milk and improving blood circulation, though there is a lack of evidence suggesting if they are actually effective, according to IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group.

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