Frozen pangolins, or scaly anteaters, have been found in the cargo hold of a Chinese fishing boat, the Philippine coastguard said.
The coastguard found 400 boxes containing pangolins, a protected species, aboard the vessel which remained stuck in Tubbataha Reef since last week and the boats crew have been accused of smuggling wildlife.
“We are now determining where these came from,” Philippine coastguard spokesman Lieutenant Commander Armand Balilo told AFP.
The discovery could lead to more charges against the 12 Chinese men arrested for alleged poaching and bribery after their fishing boat strayed into the protected marine sanctuary on Monday.
If the carcasses are found to be Philippine pangolins, then the full force of the Philippines’ wildlife protection law should be applied, WWF-Philippines chief executive officer Jose Maria Lorenzo Tan said in a statement.
“It is simply deplorable that they appear to be posing as fishermen to trade in illegal wildlife,” he said.
Pangolins are widely hunted in parts of Asia for their meat, skin and scales, reports AFP. They are known for their purported medicinal qualities in China, where they is also a delicacy. The animals are also found in the western Philippine island of Palawan.