Guangdong provincial police arrested 17 people last July suspected of smuggling pangolin scales, reported Chinese state broadcaster CCTV on Tuesday.
The well-organized gang smuggled scales from southeast Asia and Hongkong into mainland China and also included members who stored, processed and sold scales. The team had smuggled 8 tonnes of pangolin scales which the police estimates came from over 16,000 animals.
Most of the scales were sold to the traditional Chinese medicine market in Bozhou in eastern Anhui province. The police also found that the scales had been sent to the market via mailing services and delivery companies delivering other commodities.
Conservationists have long criticized the lack of law enforcement and supervision at markets such as Bozhou, which has been a hub for traditional Chinese medicine trade since the 1990s. Last March, Guangxi customs seized 820 kilogrammes of pangolin scales, many of which were also destined for the Bozhou market.
Last January, China announced a crackdown on illegal wildlife crimes when studies found that pangolins might have spread coronavirus. However, that didn’t stop the smuggling. Last April, the police seized more than 400 kilogrammes of pangolin scales in an operation across Chongqing, Bozhou and other regions. The Yunnan border checkpoint team seized 95 kilogrammes of pangolin scales and arrested one suspect in March this year. This was followed up by Guangxi customs arresting two suspects, seizing two tonnes of pangolin scales and 2 kilogrammes of pangolin paws in July. In January, the Court in Zhejiang province sentenced 17 people to imprisonment for smuggling over 23 tonnes of pangolin parts from Nigeria in 2018 and 2019.
Read more stories on the illegal pangolin trade in Asia on China Dialogue website.