Found in all the five south Indian states, these snakes have a market in China and several South East Asian countries and West Asia.

Red sand boa or mythical double headed snakes Kerala reptile smugglers favouritePic : AshLin, Wikimedia
news Wild Life Sunday, October 02, 2016 - 11:57

The arrest of six people in Kerala’s Kottayam district on charges of smuggling the red sand boa, is a breakthrough, but unlikely to make much of a dent in putting an end to the illegal trade.

Commonly known as the ‘two-headed snake’ because of its blunt tail that resembles a head, the red sand boa has been a favourite with smugglers as the reptiles fetch a lot of money.

In 2009 two red sand boas were stolen from Thiruvananthapuram zoo, but no such incident has been reported from zoos in the state since.

Otherwise, the state sees an average of 7 -10 red sand boa smuggling cases. Animals seized from poachers are sent to zoos or natural parks. 

Smuggling of the snakes is rampant as it is believed that they can confer supernatural powers, or that the iridium content in the snakes has the power to cure chronic diseases. In some Gulf countries it is believed that the blood of the snake has aphrodisiac properties while other extracts are used in cosmetics.

Found in all the five south Indian states, these snakes have a market in China and several South East Asian countries and West Asia.

“Snakes which weigh more are generally hunted, not the smaller ones. It is said that they are used for medicines abroad. But since we were not able find the final buyers, it is difficult to confirm why they are used abroad,” Sen Antony, Ernakulam District Forest Officer of Flying Squad, told The News Minute.

Sen says that illegal trade has been around for decades and the market has only become larger. “Earlier they were mainly smuggled abroad, but now even people here use it,” he said.

Kannur-based wildlife activist CK Abraham says that people in India kill the snakes for ‘poojas’ to get out of bad luck. “There are agents for their sale in the state. They arrange these snakes for poojas. They spread these stories intentionally to increase the market,” he alleges.

While the Forest Department of Kerala has managed to apprehend the low level suppliers, nabbing those at the top of the smuggling racket is proving to be tough. Last week’s arrest too, followed the pattern.

“We have not yet caught the final dealers. The people we arrest are usually middlemen and have no idea where these snakes are taken. But trade of the snake in India and smuggling it outside the country are both common. Since they are non-poisonous and harmless, poachers find it easy to catch and traffic them,” Sen says.

Abraham says that the prices the reptiles fetch depend on the size. “One would cost around Rs 20 lakhs to even Rs 1 crore. The bigger ones fetch more. It is nearly impossible to find the final buyers because there are loads of middlemen,” Abraham told TNM.

“Earlier they were easily available in sandy areas. They hide their whole body in the sand and just stick their head out. Now they are a rare and protected species (because of the trafficking), but it is easy to catch them in the monsoons as they are in hibernation,” he added.

 

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