Photo: Wildlife Alliance

On Tuesday, Hong Kong customs officials at the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound confiscated approximately eight tons of pangolin scales disguised as “660 bags of recycled plastic particles,” stated a government press release.

Pangolins are scaly mammals – about the size of a small dog – that resemble a peculiar mix between an anteater, an artichoke and a roly poly. Like human fingernails, the animal’s scales are made of keratin. These exotic beings are found in Africa and Asia, where they live in a number of different habitats including “tropical and flooded forests, thick brush, cleared and cultivated areas, and savannah grassland.”

Hong Kong customs officials confiscated a pangolin scale shipment weighing eight tons. (Image Credit: David Brossard)

Ground Pangolin at Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa. (Image Credit: David Brossard)

Sadly, the rare creatures have gained the reputation of being the world’s most trafficked mammal and are widely sought after on Chinese black markets.

“China is home to almost one and a half billion people and a large percentage of them want to eat pangolin or use the scales because they believe the scales can help women who are having trouble lactating,” Pete Bethune, wildlife trafficking expert, told Planet Experts.

The recent seizure, found on a cargo case coming from Nigeria, is the largest pangolin scale bust Hong Kong officials have made in five years. The contraband has a street value of roughly $14 million Hong Kong dollars (just over $1.8 million USD).

Hong Kong customs officials confiscated a pangolin scale shipment weighing eight tons. (Photo Credit: Sharon Kwok)

Hong Kong celebrity Sharon Kwok holds an infant pangolin, known as a “pangopup.” (Photo Credit: Sharon Kwok)

According to WildAid, Hong Kong officials confiscated 4.4 tons of the scales from a Cameroonian shipment less than a month ago; traffickers also claimed those illicit goods to be “plastic material.”

If they are convicted, the wildlife traffickers could face up to two years in prison and a fine of $5 million Hong Kong dollars (about $650,000 USD).

Pangolin is only one of the endangered species threatened with extinction by China’s hunger for exotic wildlife.

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