Hong Kong customs authorities have seized 208 kilograms (459 pounds) of endangered pangolin scales, they said Thursday, which are in demand for traditional medicine, especially in mainland China.
The pangolin scales, worth up to HK$1.7 million ($219,000), were confiscated on Tuesday in the coastal town of Sai Kung, where seven men were loading them onto a speedboat, the Customs and Excise department said.
The suspects fled on the speedboat and escaped into mainland waters after a high-speed chase by marine police. The customs department told AFP it was still investigating the scales’ destination.
Also seized were 11 kilograms of birds’ nest, the main ingredient for a costly Chinese delicacy, as well as 1,600 computer hard disks, 7,350 mobile phones and a vehicle, with the goods worth a total of HK$4.7 million.
The pangolin, which eats termites and ants, is protected under the UN’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and trading in it and its products is illegal.
But conservation groups say smuggling of the animal is rampant and they are frequently poached from the wild, mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia, exacerbating the threat of extinction from rapid deforestation.
They are transported through southeast Asia, mostly ending up in China and Vietnam, where pangolin flesh is a delicacy and its scales — the only mammal known to have them — are ground into a powder for supposed medicinal purposes.