8 min read

Officials Find Horrifying Surprise Inside Shipping Crates

Last week, officials at the Laos border stopped a suspicious man who was trying to cross into Thailand with dozens of red crates. When they opened the crates, they found something shocking.

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Inside were 81 pangolins, a gentle, armored, anteater-like animal that's native to Asia and Africa. Each live animal had been cruelly rolled into a ball and stuffed into a blue bag, then packed into the shipping crates. It's unclear if they had been given any food or water.

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

"Many of the pangolins were found to be very weak after being smuggled for days, maybe even weeks in small sacks," Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) said. "Sadly one [was] already dead on arrival."

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

The frightened animals were likely being transported to East Asia, where there's high demand for pangolin meat and scales.

"It is believed that this 'shipment' of pangolins originated from Sumatra Indonesia, and was destined for China, where these highly endangered wild animals would be eaten by the rich and corrupted, while their scales would be used as traditional Chinese medicine," WFFT said.

Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

Due to this ongoing demand, pangolins are critically endangered and are now considered the world's most illegally trafficked animal. Sunda pangolins, the species the recently rescued ones belong to, have lost 80 percent of their population in just two decades.

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

But these lucky few were able to escape the black market wildlife trade - and, fortunately, rescuers rushed to help them out. WFFT joined with its partner group, the Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre (LWRC), and rushed to the scene to assess the confused and tired animals and provide much-needed medical care.

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

"Most of the pangolins were in bad shape; dehydrated, hungry, stressed and overall weak," WFFT said.

They began to gently free the pangolins from their cloth prisons, allowing them to finally stretch their legs after the days spent tied up.

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Photos show the animals stretching out and exploring, happy to finally be free.

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Pangolins are quiet, nocturnal creatures, and are very hard to care for in captivity - which means trafficking is particularly hard on them. "In most cases, less than 20 percent survive this kind of an ordeal," WFFT said.

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

But their rescuers wanted to make their time in treatment as stress-free as possible. Since pangolins live off ants, termites and other insects, workers found entire ant colonies in the forest and transported them to their enclosure.

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Photos show the nocturnal animals browsing around at night, digging through leaves and rooting for insects after their harrowing stint in captivity.

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

They also had a pool to cool off in ...

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

... and branches to sleep in.

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Though pangolins are usually solitary, they didn't seem to mind being in contact with other members of their species.

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

For the next week, WFFT and LWRC cared for the abused animals and helped them recover from their ordeal. Unfortunately, 17 of the pangolins had suffered too much and passed away.

But the efforts paid off, and 48 of the survivors were deemed fit for release this week.

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

WFFT and LWRC packed up the pangolins, and set off to several undisclosed national parks areas. They were accompanied by a heavy guard of police, to keep the animals safe.

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

One by one, they took the little pangolins out and released them onto the forest floor, watching as they settled into their new home and then headed off into the woods.

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

There were even a few hanger-ons.

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

While the release was gratifying, the teams still have several animals to care for back at the rescue center - and they're not losing sight of the ultimate goal.

"Will this species be killed and eaten to extinction in our lifetime?" they wrote. "We sure hope not."

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

Laos Wildlife Rescue Centre

The man responsible is currently in custody. If you'd like to help WFFT and LWRC care for the remaining pangolins and the hundreds of other animals they rescue each year, you can make a donation to WFFT here.