Critically endangered pangolins that were smuggled into China from Malaysia last year died soon after they were found, the wildlife centre that took them in told local media on Monday. Tests showed that the protected animals carried a highly infectious virus that could have spread to other native wildlife, Southern Morning Post reported. The Terrestrial Wildlife Rescue Research and Epidemic Disease Surveillance Centre in Lusheng, Guangxi province received the 34 pangolins in August last year from the local forestry administration. Chinese company’s vice-president sacked for eating endangered pangolin and civet on holiday Two of the animals died almost immediately while the remaining 32 died within the next two months. The pangolins died due to organ failure from overfeeding, acute stress response, reduction in ingestion of food and infections from pathogenic microorganisms. The virus test conducted by the forestry administration found that 33 out of the 34 pangolins had carried a highly infectious virus. Liao Hekang, the chief of the wildlife centre, said specimens from the dead pangolins had also been sent to the Microbiology and Epidemiology institution of the Chinese Academy of Military Science for testing. The effects of the virus on pangolins have yet to be determined and only authorised institutions are allowed to release information on animal epidemics. The press conference did not explain why it had taken so long to disclose the news that the pangolins had died. Four animals being eaten into extinction by gourmets in China and around the world The smuggled animals were discovered last year by local police who were investigating reports of illegal activities around Qinang port. The pangolins were found in plastic bags after officers found a suspicious looking vehicle parked by a highway. The suspected ringleader of the smuggling gang has since been taken into custody. Pangolins are an endangered species that used to be widespread across southern China. But in recent years they have been hunted to near extinction owing to their popularity as a gourmet dish and use in traditional Chinese medicine.