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Nearly 400 primate skulls headed for U.S. collectors seized in "staggering" discovery at French airport

Customs agents at France's largest airport have spent months stockpiling a shocking discovery – the trafficked skulls and other remains of more than 700 animals headed for the U.S. 

The skulls were found at the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, the largest international airport in the country. Customs officers tweeted about the incident on Thursday, saying they found the skulls in "several seizures" across the airport. 

Remains of the animals were found from May through December last year, officials said, with 392 packages housing primate skulls, including macaques, baboons, mandrills and chimpanzees. Those packages were mostly from Cameroon and were meant to go to people in the U.S. More than 300 other packages contained the remains of other species – and none of the seized remains were legally authorized for sale. 

According to Al Jazeera, whole animals and arms and hands were also discovered in some packages. 

"Trafficking in protected species is one of the most lucrative trades, after drugs, weapons and people trafficking," airport customs chief Gilbert Beltran said, adding that it generates between $8.5 billion and $21 billion every year. 

According to Fabrice Gayet, a customs expert in animal trafficking, primates are generally hunted for their meat. 

"The sale of the skulls," he said, "is a follow-on business."

Hundreds of skulls and other animal remains have been found over the course of several months at France's largest airport.  French Customs/Douane Francaise via Storyful

Photos of the remains show well-preserved skulls of various species. Customs officials said they have since been given to the Natural History Museum in Aix-en-Provence. 

Sabrina Krief, a primatologist at the museum, posted on social media that the "staggering" discovery revealed an attempt to traffic the remains "to collectors and hunting associations" in the U.S.

"I am stunned to think that our closest relatives, apes and great apes, are being decimated and rainforests robbed of their endangered biodiversity for a business that is as stupid as it is outrageous," Krief also said, according to Al Jazeera.

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