By Petrus Riski
Indonesian customs officials foiled an attempt to smuggle 455 dead pangolins to Singapore from an airport in the country's second city of Surabaya, a hotbed of wildlife trafficking.
Suspicious of a man with 43 cartons he claimed were full of fish, officers checked the boxes and found the scaly mammals instead. By the hundreds.
"The packages were lined with fresh fish as camouflage," said Iwan Hermawan, the lead customs official at Surabaya's Juanda International Airport.
The carcasses weighed 1,390 kilograms and might have sold for $255,000.
Officials aren't yet sure of the creatures' origin – Indonesian pangolins live Java, Sumatra and Borneo – but they know the suspect hails from Sidoarjo district in the province of East Java near Surabaya.
Critically endangered pangolins are prized in East Asian markets for their use in traditional medicine, cuisine and cosmetics.
"Not to mention the scales, which can be used as a precursor to make meth," Iwan said.
The suspects faces a minimum of two and a maximum of eight years behind bars.
The head of the East Java customs office, Rahmat Subagyo, said his office was investigating illegal pangolin trading networks in the region.
Surabaya is a major trafficking hub, with frequent seizures at the city's port and around town. Most recently, police arrested a man selling rare eagles on Facebook. In May, a man getting off a passenger ship was caught with 24 rare birds stuffed in plastic water bottles.