for National Geographic News
Last week Indonesian police seized 14 tons of frozen Malayan pangolins—a kind of scaly anteater—bound for China and arrested more than a dozen suspected smugglers, conservationists announced Tuesday.
"The pangolins were packed and ready for export to China via seaports in Sumatra and Java," Commissioner Didid Widjanardi of the Indonesian National Police said in a statement.
The black market trade in pangolins is soaring along with China's wealth, conservationists say.
"It appears to be huge—professional and at an industrial scale," said Elizabeth Bennett, director of the wildlife-trade program at the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
Despite a global trade ban, pangolins are the most frequently seized mammals in Southeast Asia, according to TRAFFIC, the wildlife-trade monitoring network that announced the seizure.
Shipments of pangolins bound for China are regularly intercepted in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
(Read: "Wildlife Trade Booming in Burmese Casino Town" [February 28, 2008].)
Though their medicinal benefits are unproven, pangolin scales are said to help women lactate and treat ailments such as asthma and the skin condition eczema. Pangolin blood is thought to cure high blood pressure.
Pangolin meat is also considered a popular delicacy.
But the biggest factor driving the pangolin craze and price increase is the animal's scarcity. Though the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Malayan pangolin as only "near threatened," pangolin species have been hunted nearly out of existence in China and its neighboring countries.
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