Police in Shantou, a coastal city in the east of Guangdong province, on Friday revealed details of a massive smuggling case involving more than 7,000 animals destined for dinner plates across the province.
Lin Longde, an officer with the city's public security bureau, said that three suspects have been detained, while the hunt goes on for several others who escaped.
Anti-smuggling officers uncovered the racket at a small port in Shantou's Chenghai district on the evening of February 1.
They seized 5,776 monitor lizards, which are under first-class national protection; 1,170 cobras; 260 Malaysian box turtles, which are under second-class national protection; and 370 giant Asian pond turtles, which are also under national protection. The animals were worth more than 67 million yuan (US$9.4 million).
Zhang Jiexi, deputy director of the Shantou customs office's anti-smuggling department, said the wild animals were smuggled in from Southeast Asia.
"The smugglers onboard all escaped when they saw our coastguard vessel approaching," Zhang said.
As the animals were dead or dying when found, Zhang said all the cobras were burned, while the other animals were buried.
Local people's enthusiasm for dining on wild animals means that Guangdong is an ideal market for these smugglers, Zhang said.
A survey by the China Association of Wild Animal Protection said that more than 4 percent of Guangdong people often dine on wild animals, compared with a national figure of about 2.8 percent.
In May of last year, police in Yangjiang, a coastal city in the west of the province, seized more than 5,000 monitor lizards, pangolins, leatherback turtles, rare tortoises and bears' paws.
Chinese law stipulates that those caught illegally hunting or trading wild animals under national protection can be sentenced to more than 10 years' jail, life imprisonment or even receive the death penalty.
In another development, Guangzhou customs released details of a case involving the smuggling of replica pistols and submachine guns on Friday.
Ten people involved in the case were recently sentenced to between two and six years' imprisonment by the Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court.
In early 2006, authorities seized 3,000 replica pistols and submachine guns worth more than 5 million yuan, one of the largest hauls of its kind in China, the Guangzhou-based New News Express reported on Friday.
(China Daily March 22, 2008)