Chinese police have detained a suspected smuggler after catching him transporting more than a dozen wild animal corpses in a nature reserve during the coronavirus outbreak.
Officers discovered 14 dead animals, including 11 muntjacs and three cat-like mammals known to carry the SARS coronavirus, which killed hundreds of people in 2003.
Experts believe that the new coronavirus has been passed onto humans by wildlife sold as food, especially bats and snakes.
The suspect claimed that the exotic creatures, believed to have been hunted for their meat, were ‘wild vegetables’ when he tried to explain his cargo to the police.
Police officers at the Caiyanghe Nature Reserve in the southern city of Pu’er were alerted of the suspicious motorist by the locals, who claimed to have seen someone illegally transporting wildlife.
The Simao District Forest Police Station immediately dispatched officers to the scene and they caught the driver on the spot, said the local legal authority through its social media account.
Officers seized 11 dead Indian muntjacs, a deer species native to South and Southeast Asia, as well as three dead masked palm civets, reported state broadcast CCTV.
The masked palm civets are known to carry the SARS coronavirus, known as SARS CoV, which killed 775 people and infected more than 8,000 globally during an epidemic in 2003.
Both species are protected in the country. Their bodies were hidden in fabric bags.
The central government ordered a temporary ban on the trade of wild animals on January 26.
Those who are found guilty of hunting, killing, transporting, trafficking or selling wild animals can face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, according to Chinese law.
Chinese police reportedly confiscated some 38,000 trafficked wild animals between January 23 and February 11.
In the space of 20 days, officers around the country investigated 209 relevant criminal cases and 473 administrative cases, punished 690 offenders and seized 2,347 kilograms (5,174 pounds) of wildlife products, state media reported.