First pangolins were being hunted toward extinction, and now the "scaly anteaters" are being smuggled, also leading to their demise.
Pangolins are the most illegally trafficked mammals in Asia, according to the Associated Press. It's been against the law to hunt them since 2002, but the ban is now leading to more and more incidents of smuggling -- and punishment for doing so is mild, with no offenders having faced jail time.
Some Chinese citizens have been eating pangolin meat for years, and now since the population has diminished in the country, the animals are being smuggled in from parts of Cambodia, Vietnam and Lao PDR, where the mammal's population has hence also decreased, according to National Geographic.
Officials recently discovered 20 boxes full of pangolins at an airport in Jarkarta, Indonesia. The packages were thought to have contained fresh fish, the Associated Press reports.
Their scales are thought to have medicinal healing powers, and some are bringing the animals into China because they're worth big bucks. AP estimates that ten tons of meat are worth about $269,000.
The nocturnal animals tend to keep to themselves, spending most of their time in trees. They move slowly, have no teeth, and their only defense mechanism is to curl up into a ball.
A Sindh Wildlife Department official from the Pakistan province, told The News International that pangolins "were one of the most timid mammals that ordinarily shy away from human contact."
Pangolins are hunted by animals such as hyenas and leopards, but today, their biggest threat is humans, the San Diego Zoo states.
The animals are a protected species by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an organization which strives to ensure that "international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival."
The animals used to be available for purchase for roughly $4 each, but now the scales are worth about $276, The Sun reports.
PHOTOS: (WARNING -- Some may find these images disturbing)
A Thai zoo official feeds a pangolin with milk at the Dusit zoo in Bangkok, Thailand in June 2009. The pangolin trade, banned in 2002 by CITES, the international convention on endangered species, resembles a pyramid. At the base are poor rural hunters, including workers on Indonesia's vast palm oil plantations. They use dogs or smoke to flush the pangolins out or shake the solitary, nocturnal animals from trees in often protected forests. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit, File)
An official holds live pangolins after a raid at a house in Ayutthaya province, central Thailand in October 2010. The animals' defense mechanism is to curl up into a ball. (AP Photo/FREELAND Foundation, File) NO SALES
An endangered smuggled pangolin was found on a beach in the remote area of Hong Kong's New Territories in April 2005. The police raid that found the pangolins revealed the shipment of 2,000 of the scaly anteaters confirmed what environmentalists see as further evidence that Hong Kong, with its proximity to mainland China, has become a center for the smuggling of rare species to the country. (MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images)
An Indonesian forest police officer burns pangolins during a destruction of the 763 kilogram of pangolin meat confiscated by Customs and Excise in Kapuk, Indonesia in 2009. (AP Photo)
Pangolins confiscated by Customs and Excise are burned during a destruction of the 763 kilogram of pangolin meat in Kapuk, Indonesia in 2009. (AP Photo)
A Chinese pangolin preserved by taxidermy is displayed in the new exhibit "Extreme Mammals" at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Tuesday, May 12, 2009. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
A zookeeper sets free an 18-pound Chinese pangolin at the state zoological park in Gauhati, India, Tuesday, April 25, 2006. The Chinese pangolin, one of the endangered animals, which recovered from a nearby forest by local people on April 24 night was handed over to the zoo officials Tuesday morning. (AP Photo/ Anupam Nath)
Cambodian people look on as roasted wild animals -- including a pangolin, snake, mouse deer, and tortoise -- are readied for medicinal use at a squatter village in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on April 4, 2006. The medicated wine is sold to customers, who usually drink in the hope of good health. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)