• Two masterminds sentenced to 13 and 14 years 
  • Fifteen others given sentences from 15 months to 12 years
  • Pangolin scales valued in traditional Chinese medicine

A gang of smugglers have been jailed in China for trafficking 23 tonnes of pangolin scales in the country. The scaly mammals are one of the suspected intermediate hosts that transmitted the novel coronavirus from bats to humans in Wuhan a year ago.

Wenzhou Intermediate People’s Court said Tuesday that it sentenced two men, identified by their family names as Yao and Wang, to 14 and 13 years in jail, respectively, for the trafficking, reported South China Morning Post.

They have also been fined $618,000. Fifteen others were given sentences ranging from 15 months to 12 years.

According to the court, the gang was convicted of importing 23 tonnes of pangolin scales worth $28 million from Nigeria in 2018 and 2019. They were found to have sold the scales smuggled into the country by an associate.

Pangolin scales are traditionally used in Chinese medicine for a range of ailments, including treating blood clots and aiding lactation. There is no scientific evidence to their medicinal value.

Beijing had recently removed pangolin scales from an official 2020 listing of ingredients approved for use in traditional Chinese medicine, in a bid to curb the trade of the scaly anteater, the world’s most trafficked mammal.

Estimates say as many as 200,000 pangolins are killed each year in Asia for their scales and meat. Regular raids yield more than 130 tonnes of scales, live and dead animals, according to conservation group WildAid.

Recently, a prominent Chinese businesswoman dubbed the "Ivory Queen" was sentenced to 15 years in Tanzania for smuggling the tusks of more than 350 elephants, weighing nearly 2 tonnes, to Asia. China also initiated a recent crackdown that resulted in the jailing of a network for running an ivory smuggling ring, moving elephant tusks worth millions of dollars from West Africa into the mainland.

Another raid also resulted in Zimbabwean officials confiscating 25 juvenile monkeys in the back of a truck entering the country from Zambia. According to the officials, the animals were most likely on their way to zoos in China.

China has removed pangolin parts from its list of traditional medicines -- the animal is thought by some scientists to be the possible host of the novel coronavirus
Representational image AFP / Isaac Kasamani