Malaysian wildlife authorities rescued 2,300 endangered lizards headed for restaurants that offer exotic meat, an official said Tuesday.
The clouded monitor lizards were found in cages at a storage facility holding live and dead animals that were destined for cooking pots in Malaysia and abroad, said an official with the state wildlife department.
The lizards, which are about 5 feet long, will be released into the wild soon, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make public statements.
Officials also found 319 owl carcasses and 22 paws of the protected Malayan sun bear, he said. The meat, which was worth about $140,000, was believed to be on its way to China, the official said.
Three men were arrested at the location and will likely be charged with confining wild animals, which carries a maximum prison term of three years.
Activists have warned that the illegal trade of endangered animals is flourishing in Malaysia because of demand from restaurants in Asian nations where exotic meat dishes are prized.