Police in western Yunnan have taken three people into custody suspected of trafficking and selling endangered animal products. The arrests took place in Dehong Prefecture (德宏) following a month-long investigation. More than 200 items were seized, including tiger pelts, rhinoceros horns and ivory.
Investigators opened the case in late July after receiving an anonymous tip. They were informed of a possible smuggling ring operating out of the town of Wanding (畹町) on the Burmese border, 20 kilometers east of Ruili. Police first set up surveillance operations on several suspects before focusing on a wood handicraft shop. Undercover officers staked out the owner's home and visited the store to purchase what they expected were illegal goods.
When police eventually raided the shop and house, they were astonished by what they found. Hu Jiaguo, deputy director of the Mangshi Forest Police, told reporters, "I have been a policeman for 20 years, and I've never seen such a large quantity of trafficked wildlife parts". In total, investigators recovered 219 different objects, many of them pieces of endangered animals.
The haul of confiscated goods included tiger claws and teeth, tiger skins, red deer antlers, rhino horns, snake skins and jewelry believed to have been carved out of elephant ivory. Police estimated the seized items to be worth a combined 1.39 million yuan (US$218,000).
Three people were arrested, including the store owner, her son and a nephew, all surnamed Huang. The trio face up to ten years in prison each under endangered animal trafficking laws that went into effect in April 2014. According to official records, since the law was first announced, police in Dehong have seized lion claws, 27 ivory items, ten kilograms of assorted animal horns, 11 dead pangolins, antelope and bison heads and the carcass of a tiger. They have also freed 4,644 live animals listed on the national register of "key protected wildlife".
The case in Wanding is not unfamiliar territory for Yunnan police, although its scope is larger than most. The province has long been a known entrepôt for smuggled animal products. China is the world's largest importer of illegal animals, most of them illegally used in Traditional Chinese Medicine prescriptions or as trophies for wealthy collectors. By some estimates 70 percent of all such goods enter the country though Yunnan, Guangxi and Guangdong.
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