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Thousands of crocodiles rescued from smugglers in China

By Molly Gray, for CNN
updated 2:32 AM EDT, Mon July 9, 2012
Farmed Siamese crocodiles shown at the Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo near Bangkok, Thailand.
Farmed Siamese crocodiles shown at the Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo near Bangkok, Thailand.
  • Chinese police intercepted more than 3,600 crocodiles near China-Vietnam border
  • It is believed the animals were headed to restaurants in nearby Guangdong province
  • The Siamese crocodiles are near extinction in the wild, though they are bred in captivity
  • Southern China provinces made up nearly 70% of all Chinese animal trafficking last year

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Chinese police intercepted more than 3,600 crocodiles last week that were destined for dinner plates in the country's Guangdong province.

The Siamese crocodiles were seized Tuesday in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region after they crossed over the China-Vietnam border, according to reports in the Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency.

Officials believe they were headed for restaurants in southern China -- known for its exotic dining options.

Several of the crocodiles died from heatstroke during transportation, officials said, while the others are being treated by veterinarians.

The Siamese crocodile, which can grow as long as 13 feet (3.96 meters) is one of the world's most endangered reptiles, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Hunting and habitat disruption has led the species to near extinction in the wild but they are extensively farmed in Thailand and Cambodia.

Zheng Yuanying of the Green Eye of China environmental protection group told Britain's The Guardian that a strong black market has persisted in the region despite government efforts to crack down on exotic animal smuggling.

"Although people all know it is illegal to eat these wild creatures, they will still eat them as long as the market sells them. What's needed is a long-term, stronger campaign to explain to people why they shouldn't eat crocodile," he said.

Earlier this month, China met with other Asian countries to enhance collaboration between countries to combat illegal wildlife trafficking, according to a report by TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network.

The provinces of Yunnan, Guangxi and Guangdong in southern China accounted for 68.3% of the national trafficking total in 2011, according to the report.

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