pangolin threatened
Chinese officials seized 12 tons of pangolin scales. Nigel Dennis/Getty Images

Chinese customs officials have announced on 29 November that they had seized 12 tonnes of smuggled pangolin scales in an harbour in the south of the country, according to China Daily.

Officials intercepted the scales in July 2017, at a port of Shenzhen near Hong Kong. Authorities found about 250 smalls bags filled with scales in bags of charcoal. They had been hidden in a container that was meant to be empty.

This is a record-breaking seize, according to the custom authorities. The previous biggest amount of scales ever intercepted was 3 tonnes in December 2016.

It was estimated that the scales came from about 20,000 to 30,000 pangolins.

Two suspects have been arrested following the discovery. They are now on trial for smuggling the scales in the country. The two men, called Li and He by China Daily, had given fake names. Police also found money transfers between the two of them, amounting to 5m yuans ($560,000).

The pair flew together to China from Africa.

They could be jailed for 10 years, as eating or selling protected species like the pangolin is illegal in China.

Director of PETA UK, Elisa Allen told IBtimesUK it was a :"real travesty that these beautiful, unusual, and endangered animals are being trafficked and killed so their scales can be used to make money on the black market."

She pointed that pangolins would go on getting killed as long as the trade of body parts remains profitable for smugglers.

"China must combat the demand by urging its people to turn away from these crude pseudoscientific pursuits," she added.

The most hunted mammal in the world

Pangolins, sometimes described as "artichokes on legs", are listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' Red List (IUCNR). They have also been protected under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) since September 2016.

China is a members of CITES and has been cracking down on smugglers, but the pangolin remains at risk.

These animals are extremely popular for their meat and scales. About 10 million pangolins have been poached in the last decade. A kilo of scales goes for about £616 on the black market. Pangolin scales are also used in traditional medicinal concoctions. It is believed it can cure everything, from asthma and cancer to helping young mothers produce more milk.

In September 2017, actor Jackie Chan participated in a video to raise awareness about the illegal trade of pangolins.