Customs Police Seize Weird Smelling Shipping Crate And Find Some Truly Disturbing Cargo Inside

While all animals should be protected, it’s safe to say that some populations are healthier than others. In fact, there are certain animals, like the hippos in Colombia, who have overpopulated the regions in which they live.

That said, there are other species that need all the help they can get. These animals are constantly in danger—and that danger is posed by both other animals and, all too often, by human beings.

When customs authorities in China spotted a strange shipping container at a port one day, they were suspicious. What they didn’t know was that when they opened the container, everything was going to get a lot more serious…

Customs officials in Shenzhen, China, weren’t sure what to expect when they flagged a suspicious cargo container that had arrived in Yantian District’s port. It arrived through unconventional channels without the right paperwork, which was already enough to raise a red flag.

Facebook / CITES

They were told that the shipping container was empty, but the the officers from the Dapeng Customs Anti-Smuggling Branch didn’t believe that for one minute. They knew they had to inspect the inside…

Facebook / CITES

They broke the lock on the shipping container and immediately noticed that it was filled to the brim with blue-and-red-striped bags. They sliced open one of the bags and discovered it was full of coal. But if coal was all these bags were carrying, why try to keep it a secret?

Facebook / CITES

The investigating officers decided to look a little bit more closely at these bags. They pulled out each sack, and before they were even halfway through they noticed an unforgettable smell: the sickly odor of decay.

Facebook / CITES

Before the investigators proceeded any further, they needed to consider their own health and safety. So, they called in quarantine officers to supervise as they unpacked the rest of the sacks. What they found left them feeling sick to their stomachs…

Facebook / CITES

The contents of the bags were mind-boggling, and the investigators were quick to reveal their findings to the public. “Our preliminary inspection determined they were pangolin scales,” the officials reported. In total, the bags contained 13.1 tons of pangolin scales.

Facebook / CITES

This wasn’t just a huge amount of scales; in fact, it was the largest bust of illegal pangolin byproducts ever made by Chinese officials. Specialists speculated that these scales had to come from a whopping 30,000 pangolins. Investigators were desperate to catch the people responsible for this crime and to stop them before they could cause any further damage.


Pangolins, which look similar to armadillos, are the most trafficked animal in the world. Because of poaching and smuggling, this creature is perilously endangered—and it was a bad sign that so many of their scales were discovered in these shipping crates.

Oregon State University / Flickr

Pangolins tend to curl up into little balls when they feel scared or threatened. This makes them all too easy for traffickers to scoop up and sell. So, why are they frequently smuggled? And why are their scales so valuable?

Manis temminckii / Fox 2 Detroit

It may be because of the role they play in traditional Chinese medicine. Even though there is no scientific evidence to support it, many people in China believe that ingesting pangolin scales can cure a number of illnesses, like asthma, arthritis, and even cancer. It’s considered a wonder drug.

gmacfadyen / Flickr

Some people even believe that eating pangolin meat can have a healing effect, though in reality, this illegal act can earn them 10 years in prison. The pangolin has been granted protection by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, but this doesn’t stop criminals from rapidly depleting their numbers.

Wildlife Alliance / Flickr

Unfortunately, investigators in the case of these shipping crates didn’t have much to work with when it came to identifying the criminals responsible. The only information available was the name “XIA × HUA” written on the shipping forms. They were worried they wouldn’t find any other leads…


To get more help on the case, the investigators called in a team that was dedicated to shutting down smuggling operations. The experts identified the pangolin scales as being African in origin. Using the name on the shipment and this location, they were able to narrow down the list of potential suspects…

Facebook / CITES

The initial list of suspects contained dozens of potential leads for investigators, and they were vigilant in researching each one. In the process, they ruled out many possible suspects—and they eventually arrested two men named He and Li.


Li was a known smuggler who had successfully evaded capture for years. He completely denied having anything to do with the scales—even when photographs of them were found on his cell phone. He chalked this up to having bought his phone secondhand.


At first the investigators thought that Li had them in between a rock and a hard place. If he could prove that the phone was purchased secondhand, then there was no way they could hold him in custody without more evidence of his involvement in the crime.


However, for someone so experienced at committing crimes, Li had made one serious mistake: In a photograph of the scales, the photographer had also accidentally captured an image of his foot! His foot had an identifying trait, too: a mole. When investigators compared the feet—and realized the similarity—it was all the proof they needed of his involvement.

Allen Allen / Flickr

Investigators discovered that Li and He had been partners for quite some time. The two had made an astounding $758,000 in business dealings together. Li was responsible for shipping the product, while He was responsible for seeing that it was sold.


After they were arrested, the criminals and their proceedings were reported to the General Administration of Customs. While Li and He were definitely collaborating with each other, there was no way of knowing how many other illegal operators were involved.

Facebook / CITES

Serious efforts may be underway to protect the species, but it’s still not enough. The International Fund for Animal Welfare made a statement that read, “More needs to be done so we don’t see pangolins go extinct within our lifetime.” Here’s hoping that change is made sooner than later!

Facebook / Save Vietnam’s Wildlife

This impressive sting might’ve put a major dent in illegal pangolin smuggling operations, but there was still a lot of work to be done. People need to come together to make sure that the pangolin sticks around!

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