BEIJING (AP) -- Animal rights groups on Saturday cheered the release of 37 spotted seal pups rescued from traffickers into the wild in northern China in a small victory for efforts to save the country's endangered species.
Humane Society International said the pups were discovered three months ago by police in a shed in a remote coastal farm in the northern Chinese city of Dalian, many of them starving and dying. Eight suspects were arrested in the operation.
The society's Chinese partner, VShine, sent a representative to participate in the release by the Dalian authorities.
It said the pups had been taken from the wild by traffickers for the aquarium industry and for display in aquariums, shops and restaurants. Another 29 pups could not be rescued and died, having been only about 2 weeks old when found and not yet weaned from their mothers. Earlier this month, an initial batch of 24 pups was released.
Once hunted for their use in traditional Chinese medicine, spotted seals are now a protected species in China, although they are often stolen from their mothers to supply commercial venues.
"We are thrilled that our Chinese partner group, VShine, was able to send animal welfare observers to the release of these seal pups back to the wild," Peter Li of Humane Society International was quoted as saying in a news release.
"Sadly, China's growing obsession for keeping marine species like seals and turtles in captivity is fueling wildlife crime such as this, which causes immense animal suffering and loss of life," he said.