SHANGHAI, Dec. 28 (UPI) — Customs officials arrested three people after seizing 3.4 tons of illegally trafficked pangolin scales from a port in Shanghei, the largest haul in China.
Shanghai Customs officials said they found the scales of the endangered animals on Dec. 10 in a container of 101 bags imported from Africa among declared timbers. Customs officials said the haul represents about 5,000 to 7,500 pangolins that were killed, according to the China News Service.
On the black market, the 6,800 pounds of scales, used in traditional Chinese medicine, would be worth more than $2 million, according to state media.
But much more may have been smuggled. The officials said they determined the suspects have been buying pangolin scales in Africa and smuggling them to China since 2015.
Pangolins, scaly mammals that resemble an artichoke with legs, have declined in numbers because of the high demand for their meat and scales in China and Vietnam. The meat is considered a delicacy and the scales – made of the same material as human fingernails – are believed to have medicinal powers – often boiled and used to treat palsy and stimulate lactation, among other things.
The Chinese pangolin weighs between 4.4 and 22 pounds with scales accounting for about 15 percent of their body weight, according to the Zoological Society of London.
All eight species of pangolins are endangered. The 182 nations that belong to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, including China, voted in September to ban trade in all eight species.
Eight species of pangolin are found in Africa and Asia, listed from “vulnerable” to “critically endangered.”