Illegal trade in snake venom thriving in Kerala


Thiruvananthapuram/Kannur : Kerala forest department officials suspect that illegal trade in snake venom is thriving in the state. In the past three months the department has succeeded in busting three gangs dealing in the poisonous substance.

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In their latest operation in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram Wednesday night, forest vigilance officials found half a litre of snake venom worth Rs.4 million. They also arrested 34-year-old Mohammed Shafi for trading in the venom.

On Tuesday, forest officials arrested three people with 22 grams of snake venom crystals worth around Rs.660,000 at Kannur, around 500 km north of Thiruvananthapuram. Shafi also belongs to Kannur district.

“We approached them as buyers and they demanded Rs.35,000 per gram. After a hard bargain, they brought down the price to Rs.30,000 a gram. It was cobra venom,” forest range officer C. Sasikumar told IANS.

“The venom in crystal form is the most pure and will cost more. The venom seized in Thiruvananthapuram is in liquid form. Snake venom is converted into crystals using a desiccation technique,” said N.T. Sajan, divisional forest officer (vigilance).

“Under the Wildlife Protection Act 1977, it is illegal to keep snakes without a license. No one in Kerala has a license to extract snake venom or process it. Only some companies, which are producing lifesaving anti-venoms, hold the license for the extraction and processing,” he said.

He added that those arrested seem to be seasoned traders although they claim to be dealing in venom for the first time.

In September 2007, a forest vigilance team had arrested a gang in Waynad district for selling snake venom.

Although they have bust three gangs in three months, officials are unsure why snake venom is clandestinely procured. They suspect venom is used in some form along with narcotic substances.

They are also finding it difficult to unravel the network that operates behind it.

“We are yet to find out who are the end users of this venom. We don’t know the details of how they are collecting it. Those arrested are just small links in a big chain. Even after hours of questioning, they are not ready to reveal details of the trade or the customers,” said Sasikumar.

“In the September operation, the deal we struck with the traders involved a huge quantity. They said they have one litre of venom. However, during the operation the main accused escaped our trap. He escaped with the venom. We could seize only the sample of the venom which his accomplices brought to us for verification,” he said.

“Had we arrested the kingpin then, it would have answered many of our questions,” Sasikumar added.

Forest officials also said they strongly suspect that the venom is being smuggled abroad.

“Those arrested say that the demand for venom goes up substantially during the tourist season here. This points to some kind of a foreign connection,” said Sajan.