A man found with more than 80 wild toads in eastern China could face a prison term of up to three years if convicted of illegal hunting.

The man, identified only by his surname Zhang, was detained after police found the live toads in a plastic bucket he was carrying in Pizhou, Jiangsu province, on Christmas Day, according to the official microblog of the city’s police department.

“I didn’t know that catching toads is illegal,” Zhang was quoted as saying.

While toads are not classified as rare or endangered animals in China, they are listed as “three-value species” of commercial, research and environmental value to the country.

Hunting more than 20 of any of these animals constitutes a crime, while anybody found with more than 50 of them risks a prison sentence, according to the criminal law.

More than 1,700 species have been added to the category since the State Forestry and Grassland Administration started listing them in 2000, and the tally includes sparrows, frogs, wall lizards, hares, pheasants and snakes.

Anybody wanting to hunt the listed animals must have a licence and abide by quotas.

In 2017, a farmer in Zhejiang province was reported to police for capturing 114 toads. The farmer had killed all but five of them and planned to cook them for dinner. Many internet commenters were surprised that hunting toads was illegal.

In 2013, a man was detained for six months and later given a one-year suspended sentence for illegally hunting 300 sparrows.