Five thousand rare animals have been found on an abandoned boat off China’s coast.
The cargo included Asian giant turtles and lizards, all packed inside crates on the boat near Qingzhou island in Guangdong province.
Alarmingly, 21 severed bear paws were also found. Although most of the animals were alive, many were in a perilous condition and suffering from dehydration.
Fishermen raised the alarm last Tuesday when they noticed a strange smell from the 25-metre vessel. Coastguard officials found no identification papers onboard.
Local reports suggested the boat had been carrying 31 pangolins, 44 leatherback turtles, 2,720 monitor lizards and 1,130 Brazilian turtles, as well as the bear paws. Other animals included an Asian giant turtle.
Coastguard officials moved the animals to a wildlife centre where they are recovering.
The stretch of water is well known as part of a route from southeast Asia used by smugglers to supply China’s restaurant trade.
All of the animals are from southeast Asian species and are banned from international trade – regulations regularly flouted in Guangdong. One chef there last year told the Beijing Science and Technology Daily of the disturbing method used to cook a pangolin.
“We keep them in cages until the diner makes an order. Then we hammer them unconscious, cut their throats and drain the blood. It is a slow death.”