A local court in Jinan, Shandong Province has sentenced three people to between five and 10 years in prison for smuggling over 2,000 butterfly samples, media reported on Tuesday.
According to Beijing Youth Daily, the three had been purchasing butterfly samples online from overseas and mailing them to China, falsely labelling them as "skirts" and "art" since October 2015.
Customs officials in Jinan intercepted a package sent from Malaysia in January 2016 and discovered that the contents of the box were butterfly samples, not skirts as had been stated.
A total of 1,264 among the 2,800 dead butterflies seized by Jinan customs authorities were identified to be protected species. It is the largest such case in China since it signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in 1973.
The three confessed that they established a biotechnology company in 2015 for selling and exhibiting butterfly samples. As the profits for selling domestic butterfly samples were small, one of the three suspects surnamed Wei suggested they purchase them from abroad.
Wei was sentenced to 10 years in prison for smuggling precious animal products and handed a fine of 50,000 yuan (,537). The other two were sentenced to seven and five years, with additional fines of 40,000 and 20,000 yuan.
China's Law on Protection of Wild Animals also bans the sale, purchase or use of national key protected wild animals and their products.