Even though the smugglers, who turned out to be two Indonesian soldiers, tried to speed away, they stopped their car once police blocked their way. When authorities opened the back hatch of the vehicle, they found 40 wild porcupines shoved in cages, the news outlet Mongabay originally reported.
Malayan porcupines are under threat because of hunting and habitat loss, but also because something that can grow in their stomachs is considered magical by practitioners of Chinese medicine.
Bezoar stones — which grow in the stomachs of only some porcupines after they’ve consumed certain kinds of herbs and grasses — were believed in the Middle Ages to be an antidote to poison and are now mistakenly believed to be magical cures for cancer and diabetes. But traffickers cash in on the superstition: A piece of stone weighing less than half a gram can fetch 700 Malaysian ringgit, the equivalent of about $170 USD.
Sadly, many porcupines don’t even have the stones in their stomachs when they are sold just to be killed. And while it is illegal to traffic Malayan porcupines, the laws can be hard to enforce. The two soldiers who were detained for trafficking the 40 porcupines were permitted to go back to their military base after simply promising never to do such a thing again.
Luckily, the 40 porcupines were swiftly brought back where they belong. Pasaman conservation authorities released the animals in a wildlife reserve.