The Intermediate People’s Court in the eastern city of Wenzhou on Tuesday jailed 17 people for smuggling pangolin scales into China.
The members of the gang were convicted of importing 23 tonnes of scales from pangolins — the world’s most trafficked mammal — worth 180 million yuan ($28 million) from Nigeria between 2018 and 2019, the court said.
Two men identified as “masterminds behind the racket” were sentenced to between 13 and 14 years in prison. The others were given jail terms ranging from 15 months to 12 years.
The scales were brought in on, among other things, a consignment “hidden in ginger slices”, the court said.
China removed pangolin body parts from its official list of traditional medicines in June and raised the animal’s protected status to the country’s highest level due to its dwindling numbers.
Pangolin scales are traditionally used in China for a range of ailments, including treating blood clots and aiding lactation, although there is no scientific evidence that they have any medicinal value.
Studies have also suggested that the pangolin may have been the intermediate host that transmitted the coronavirus to humans when it first emerged at a wet market in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year.
China has since banned the sale of wild animals for food in such markets.
On December 31, China said it had jailed a network accused of running its biggest-ever ivory smuggling ring, moving elephant tusks worth millions of dollars from West Africa into the mainland’s vast domestic market.