The TRAFFIC network said a China-bound shipment of pangolins, or scaly anteaters, from Indonesia seized by Vietnamese customs early last year may have re-entered the market after authorities auctioned the smuggled goods.

Two months after the October auction in the northern port of Haiphong, Vietnamese customs officials last month seized a similar five-tonne (ton) shipment in another port close to the Chinese border, said TRAFFIC.

"The proximity of the two events, as well as the similarity in the size and packaging, has called into question the origin of the newly seized pangolins, with some speculating the shipment may have at least partially been sourced from the pangolins auctioned in October 2008," said the group.

The latest seizure "reaffirms the need to destroy all seized wildlife products, as sell-offs such as the one in October only help increase demand for pangolins in the region", said TRAFFIC Mekong region coordinator Sulma Warne.

At least 100,000 pangolins, mostly from Malaysia and Indonesia, are smuggled into China every year for use in traditional medicine, said the group.

Pangolins - listed as endangered since last year by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) - are the most frequently seized mammals in the illegal Asian wildlife trade, said TRAFFIC.

Agence France Presse - January 9, 2009