THE manager of a Chinese import-export company has been sentenced to 21 months in prison after pleading guilty to smuggling parts of endangered species, including the skeleton of a rare Siberian tiger, into California. Had Chang Hoa An, 39, not been arrested at Los Angeles International Airport in September last year, he could have made more than US$800,000 (HK$6.18 million) selling the tiger skeleton, 200 vials of dried Asian black bear bile and other items on the black market. Prosecutors told the court: 'For centuries, such items have been a staple of traditional Chinese medicine, used to treat various ailments, to increase vitality or for their professed aphrodisiac properties.' 'I made a big, stupid mistake,' An, from northwestern Jilin province, said through an interpreter after US federal wildlife agents carefully laid out the tiger skeleton and other contraband for District Judge David Kenyon to see. 'Because of this serious, big mistake I made, I want to apologise to the American Government,' said An, who said that most of the animal parts were legally bought in China and intended as gifts for business contacts in the United States. An pleaded guilty on January 3 to a single charge of smuggling, in violation of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, in which the US and China are both signatories. However, he was not sentenced until last week. Judge Kenyon rejected An's plea for leniency, expressing disgust at the thought of people who slaughter endangered species - only several hundred Siberian tigers are believed left in the wild - merely to satisfy prurient urges. He said: 'Why? That's what fascinates me. Incredible - so someone can satisfy their sexual lust? My golly - it's hard to conceive that our need for sexual prowess would lead to the extinction of a beautiful animal.' Estimates of the illegal trade in wildlife worldwide run as high as US$5 billion annually. Police in northeastern Liaoning and Heilongjiang provinces in China have cracked a smuggling ring trafficking tiger parts from eastern Siberia, an official report said yesterday. Police arrested 14 people and confiscated a Siberian tiger skin and 119 tiger bones in the cross-border tiger smuggling operation, the China Daily reported.