A dramatic series of events unfolded on Chinese social media last week, with a whale shark at the center of the controversy.
The saga began when oil-rig workers near Weizhou Island, south of China’s Guangxi Province, posted photos of a whale shark on social media, the BBC explained. Labeled an “old friend” by the workers, the fish attracted much attention on the site from users fawning over its magnificent looks. Whale sharks are impressive, growing up to 40 feet long.
But the good cheer didn’t last long. Two days later photos surfaced on the same site showing a dead whale shark hanging from a crane. Social media users quickly linked the two specimens and expressed outrage at the animal’s death. According to the BBC, one user wrote: "It's too cruel! Enough is enough!"
Police arrested two culprits, Liao and Huang (their family names), who allegedly sold the animal to a fish market. Investigators can’t confirm that the dead whale shark was the same one shown in the photos by the rig workers.
China outlaws hunting and trading whale sharks, which are considered vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the organization that sets the conservation status of animals.
Some other wildlife crime busts, convictions, and confiscations around the world announced this past week:
CLAW JEWELRY: Police in the Dien Chau district, in north-central Vietnam, busted a man accused of smuggling 680 tiger claws into the country from Laos, Thanhien News says. The suspect confessed that he bought the claws in Laos for $15,250 and intended to sell them to others to be made into jewelry. Tiger claws are considered a status symbol in some Asian countries.
TUSK TAKERS: Police in Marsabit, a county in eastern Kenya, nabbed five people suspected of poaching an elephant and its calf, All Africa reported. The officers found four tusks and an AK-47 rifle in the crew’s possession. The elephants’ slaughter on May 1 followed the burning in Kenya of 105 tons of stockpiled ivory, an event meant to send the message that ivory has no value and poaching won’t be tolerated.
TURTLE EGG TALE: A federal judge sentenced a married couple to six months in prison for smuggling 911 eggs of endangered sea turtles into the U.S. from Mexico, reports the Los Angeles Times. According to the judge, the case involved the largest seizure ever of sea turtle eggs imported from Mexico. The pricy eggs are considered a delicacy and aphrodisiac in Asia.
SCALES AND FURS: Customs officers in Hong Kong seized 130 kilograms (286 pounds) of scales from endangered pangolins, as well as 310 kilograms (685 pounds) of animal fur, according to The Standard. At 2 a.m. on Thursday the officers detected suspects loading goods onto a speedboat at Lau Fau Shan, a rural fishing village near the northwestern edge of Hong Kong’s waters.
FROZEN TIGERS: Vietnamese law enforcement officers arrested a man who allegedly smuggled four frozen tiger cubs into the country from Laos, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency, which cited Vietnamese media.
This story was produced by National Geographic’s Special Investigations Unit, which focuses on wildlife crime and is made possible by grants from the BAND Foundation and the Woodtiger Fund. Read more stories from the SIU on Wildlife Watch. Send tips, feedback, and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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