Pangolins, the only scaled mammal known, are being threatened by indiscriminate poaching for its supposed use to treat illnesses such as asthma, menstrual and lactation disorders.

Authorities have found that smugglers bought at least 22,200 endangered Sunda pangolins and nearly a ton of their scales for export between May 2007 and December 2008. Most of the demand is for Chinese medicine experts.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the group that monitors wildlife trade says this "raises serious concerns for the continued survival of the species".

"Most of what we know about the trafficking of pangolins is from seizures, and it has always been recognized that this is probably the tip of the iceberg," says Elizabeth John, a Traffic spokesperson in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in a report in news scientist.

The smugglers' records reveal the size of the iceberg. "This is why these logbooks are so valuable. It shows you what enforcement agencies are grappling with."

The scales of pangolin are powdered and worn like a locket. In Chinese medicine, pangolin meat is supposed to have medicinal properties.