Hong Kong customs officers uncovered more than seven tonnes of scales believed to have come from endangered pangolins in a shipping container that arrived from Africa, the government said on Tuesday.
The 7,200kg haul – one of the biggest seizures of its kind in recent Hong Kong history – had an estimated market value of about HK$4.6 million, according to the Customs and Excise Department.
The scales were believed to have come from thousands of the endangered, anteater-like creatures. Africa is the main source of pangolin shipments, a government source said.
“There is a demand for pangolin scales in Asian countries such as mainland China because the scales can be used in Chinese medicine,” he said.
Officers uncovered the stash after choosing the 20-foot shipping container for inspection at Kwai Chung container terminal on Monday.
According to customs officers the container, which came from Nigeria, had been listed as containing charcoal.
It was found packed with bags of the suspected pangolin scales.
Under the Import and Export Ordinance, imported undeclared cargo carries a maximum penalty of a HK$2 million fine and seven years’ imprisonment.
Under the law governing the protection of endangered species, the maximum penalty for importing such items without a licence is a HK$5 million fine and two years in jail.
The investigation was still under way, an official said.