‘Snake Friends’ held for selling snake venom worth lakhs of rupees illegally

In a major action against wildlife crime, a joint team of wildlife and territorial wing officials on Wednesday arrested 12 sarpa mitras for selling snake venom illegally worth lakhs of rupees.

“It is a classic case of fence eating the farm, those promising to save snakes by rescuing and releasing them in their natural habitat put a blot on conservation,” said A K Saxena, acting chief wildlife warden and additional principal chief conservator of forests ( APCCF) for wildlife.

Saxena informed that the joint team seized 8ml of cobra venom, estimated to be worth Rs 7-8 lakh. The officials also seized seven live cobras, one chameleon and one grass snake, besides six motorcycles and 14 mobiles from the accused.

Assistant conservator of forests (ACF) Kishore Mishrikotkar said forest officials had received several complaints from local NGOs and wildlife lovers about the clandestine venom trade going on in Vidarbha.

“For the past three months we were following these sarpa mitras. After confirmation, a trap was laid by sending fake customers on Wednesday. The accused say they are novices while we believe they were in the business for past eight years,” Mishrikotkar said.

According to sources, although the seized venom appears small in quantity, the original deal was going on for procuring around 300ml venom worth Rs 3 crore.

“The venom seized on Wednesday seems to be just a sample,” forest officials said. The culprits were arrested in a restaurant at Sitabuldi from where the deal was negotiated.

The forest officials did not divulge the names of accused sarpa mitras but it is learnt that they are from Gadchiroli, Akola, Nagpur and Dahegaon. Some snake friends from Nagpur, who used to rescue snakes and have their pictures published in local dailies are also linked to the trade.

The accused had printed visiting cards with their pictures displaying snakes and contact numbers and distributed them to residents in large numbers. People used to call these sarpa mitras for rescuing snakes. The accused used to keep snakes at home and extract their venom.

Cobras are listed under Schedule II of Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) 1972, and their possession is illegal. The accused have been booked under Sections 9, 39, 49(B), 41(C), 51 and 57. “The accused will be produced in the court on Thursday. If proved guilty, there is provision for 7 years imprisonment and a minimum fine of Rs 10,000,” said Mishrikotkar.

Honorary district wildlife warden Kundan Hate, NGO Srushti’s Vineet Arora, forest employees Gunwanta Kharbade, Kishor Kadwe, ACF Avinash Anjikar, forest guards Abhilasha Sontakke, P D Bais, Raju Raut, Narendra Ramdham, Vijay Shendre, Satish Urkude, Sunil Gadhwe and others were part of the trap team.

The illicit venom trade calls for a strategy by the forest officials on genuine and registered sarpa mitras. However, Saxena said, “Although a protocol needs to be worked out, there is no provision in the law to register sarpa mitras or issue I-cards to them.”

Taking advantage of this, many youths become sarpa mitras overnight and start rescuing snakes and become part of the lucrative venom trade.

Source: Times of India