SHENZHEN, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) -- Customs officers in the southern Chinese metropolis of Shenzhen have seized 11.9 tonnes of smuggled pangolin scales.
At a press conference Wednesday, Li Ping, a Shenzhen customs official, said customs found 239 bags of suspected pangolin scales hidden in a container at Yantian port on July 1.
The South China Wildlife Identification Center confirmed on July 18 that they were pangolin scales, banned from international trade.
A pangolin typically has 0.4 to 0.6 kilogram of scales. The center estimated that 20,000 to 30,000 pangolins may have been slaughtered to get such a large amount of scales.
Four months later, police arrested two people allegedly involved in the case. The two confessed that they bought the scales from an African country and transported them back disguised as charcoal.
The pangolin is the world's most heavily trafficked mammal. It is under second-class state protection in China and the highest level of protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which prohibits international trade of any of the eight pangolin species.
Pangolins are often smuggled into China because their meat is considered a delicacy and their scales are believed to have medicinal qualities.
Those who catch, kill, buy or sell endangered wild animals on the state's protection list can face more than 10 years in prison, plus fines.