Malaysian authorities seized about six tons of pangolin scales and smashed a smuggling syndicate, officials said Wednesday, as the country clamps down on rampant wildlife trafficking.
The pangolin, the world's most heavily trafficked mammal, is believed to have possibly been a vector in the leap of the novel coronavirus from animal to human at a market in China's Wuhan city last year.
Its body parts fetch a high price on the black market as they are commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, although scientists say they have no therapeutic value.
The haul was found Tuesday at a port outside the capital Kuala Lumpur, hidden inside a container along with a shipment of cashew nuts, said customs department chief Paddy Abdul Halim.
Officials said they had detained two people for questioning, and the operation had put a smuggling syndicate out of operation.
They could be jailed for up to three years if convicted of breaking wildlife protection laws.
It was not immediately clear if the scales originally came from Malaysia or elsewhere. Malaysia is often used as a transit point for smuggling wildlife across the region.
Traffic, a group that monitors animal trafficking, praised authorities for "prioritizing wildlife even while countries are focused on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic", spokeswoman Elizabeth John said.