- Two brothers say they shot a "big animal" they thought had been attacking their sheep
- They then discovered it was a giant panda, an endangered species found only in China
- Prosecutors say the brothers sold panda meat and paws to another person to trade
(CNN)Three people are being prosecuted in China over the killing of a giant panda in the wild and the sale of its meat, state media reported.
Giant pandas are an endangered species that's beloved in China, where many regard the creatures as a national treasure.
Two brothers, Wang Wenlin and Wang Wencai, are accused of killing the panda in the southwestern province of Yunnan in December, China's state run news agency Xinhua reported Wednesday.
They ate some of the meat and sold the rest, along with the panda's paws, to the third accused person, Li Kequan, who traded the contraband with others, prosecutors said, according to the news agency.
The Wang brothers told police they had been looking for a predator that had attacked their sheep. They said they shot a "big animal" they saw in a tree only to discover it was a giant panda, according to state media.
Police came across the pelt of a panda, parts of a skull and other remains at the brothers' home.
Authorities originally detained 10 suspects in the case, state media reported in May. The Xinhua report this week didn't mention the other seven suspects.
No pandas seen in province for centuries
Police began investigating the case in December after being tipped off about the illegal trading of bear meat. But further DNA tests showed that the meat in question was from a female panda, according to Xinhua.
Giant pandas are one of the world's most endangered species. The conservation group WWF, which uses the animal as its logo, estimates that no more than 1,800 pandas are living in the wild.
Chinese authorities have invested large amounts of money in protecting the creatures, helping to boost the number living in the wild by around 17% over the past decade.
They are only believed to found in China's Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. Nobody had spotted one in Yunnan, which lies south of Sichuan, for centuries, according to Xinhua.
After the killing in December, Yunnan's forestry administration conducted a search and concluded that there could be other pandas in the area, the news agency said.