Beijing (AFP) July 15, 2010
Chinese customs said they have seized nearly eight tonnes of frozen pangolins -- an endangered species of scaly anteater -- from a fishing boat off the southern coast.
The vessel was intercepted in June carrying the huge haul of animals and nearly two tonnes of their scales, said a statement on the website of customs authorities in Jiangmen in Guangdong province.
The pangolin is designated as endangered in China, and anyone found guilty of smuggling the rare animals or their parts faces life in prison or even the death penalty.
However, the meat of the pangolin is considered a delicacy, fuelling trade in the animals, while their scales are scraped off for use in traditional Chinese medicine.
International trade in pangolins is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
The crew of the boat, which held 2,090 frozen pangolins, confessed they had been hired to sail from China to two meeting points at sea where they received the cargo.
They were intercepted en route back to China, where pangolin meat can fetch 600 to 800 yuan (89 to 118 dollars) a kilogramme on the black market, while their scales can cost 4,000 yuan a kilo.
According to wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, a member of the crew had received instructions by satellite telephone on where to rendezvous at sea.
"The use of satellite phones and trans-shipment of cargo at sea are indicative of the increasingly sophisticated methods being used by the organised criminal gangs involved in wildlife crime," James Compton, TRAFFIC's Asia Pacific coordinator, said in a statement emailed to AFP.
According to Jiangmen customs authorities, a total of 38,599 rare animal parts were seized in China between 2007 and the end of June this year.
Pangolins are indigenous to the jungle of Indonesia, parts of Malaysia and areas of southern Thailand.
Wildlife officials have said the animals face a serious threat from poachers and smugglers in Southeast Asia, with inadequate punishment and lack of information encouraging the burgeoning trade.
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