Two suspected smugglers were detained in Shanghai after authorities recovered 3.1 tons of pangolin scales, the largest amount ever seized in China.
An endangered animal in China, the pangolin is one of the most illegally traded animals in the world, media reported.
Customs agents from Shanghai Customs District said they received a tip-off that two shipping containers carrying endangered animal products from Africa would be arriving at the city's port, China Central Television (CCTV) reported Saturday.
In the containers, police and anti-smuggling bureau agents found 3.1 tons of pangolin scales. Prized for their use in traditional Chinese medicine, it is estimated that the scales came from 5,000 to 8,000 pangolins, CCTV reported.
The suspects, surnamed Zhu and Xu, confessed that they had purchased the scales for between 300-500 yuan ($43-72) a kilogram, and planned to sell them for 10 times the price, said CCTV.
The report did not reveal which country the shipment had come from.
Pangolins are a second-class State-protected animal in China. More than 1 million pangolins have been poached and killed in the last decade, according to wildlife NGO Wild Aid.
Pangolins are popular in China because their meat is considered a delicacy and their scales are believed to have medicinal qualities.
In China, those who catch, kill, buy or sell endangered wild animals on the State's protection list could face a jail term of more than 10 years plus fines.
Zhang Dayong, head of the school of life sciences at Beijing Normal University, was quoted by news portal people.cn in February as saying that it takes 10,000 pangolins to satisfy the medicinal needs for people in China per year.
However, the main component of pangolin scales is just keratin, which can also be found in human nails and in pigs, sheep and cows. In this case, even if pangolin scales had a very big medicinal value, it is easy to find replacements, Zhang said.
Two government officials from Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region were detained in February after they were found to have invited a guest to dine on pangolins at their office while the guest was working in the region in 2015.