Conservationists are voicing their concerns after the northern province of Bac Ninh chose to sell 42 pangolins seized from poachers, warning that such a move would only encourage wildlife trade.
The endangered animals, all alive, were seized by local police and then handed to forest rangers on February 1, local media reported.
After asking the poachers to pay fines, officials in the province sold the pangolins to local restaurants at the street price of VND1.2 million (US$56) a kilo.
The animals, which weighed 201 kilograms in total, brought the province around $11,300.
Members of Education for Nature-Vietnam, an environmental group in Hanoi, have strongly criticized the decision, calling it a "failure" in deterring wildlife trade.
The group said by selling the pangolins, the authorities have become “a link” of the trading of the animals, and as such sanctioning illegal wildlife trade.
It said the pangolins seized are of the Sunda Pangolin (Manis javanica) species, which is critically endangered due to high levels of poaching.
The animal’s meat is considered a luxury food while its scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat conditions such as psoriasis and poor circulation. Such treatments have not been backed by adequate scientific evidence.
Nguyen Thi Phuong Dung, deputy director of Education for Nature-Vietnam, said: “Any violations regarding the animals should receive criminal punishment. We also can't treat them simply as evidence of a crime and then trade them."
Le Van Minh, head of Bac Ninh’s Forest Management Department, said they have dealt with the animals in accordance with the law.
Minh said a government regulation in 2006 put pangolin in the group of wild animals whose commercial use should be limited but they can still be sold by registered traders or by the authorities.
The pangolins were too weak to be saved anyway, he said.
Bac Ninh officials seem to be unaware of a new law that took effect last year and gave the pangolin, one of the world's most trafficked animals, a new conservation status.
Hoang Thi Thanh Nhan, a senior official from the environment ministry, said that it is a rare animal listed for protection priority in Vietnam and cannot be traded.