Smuggler is caught with 104 snakes in his pants at Chinese border

July 11, 2024
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HONG KONG — In China, snakes can be farmed and eaten. But they can’t be carried alive into the country, even — or especially — if you try to smuggle more than a hundred of them in your pants.

That’s what one man found out as he attempted to thwart customs officials at Futian Port, a land crossing between Hong Kong and Shenzhen in southern China. Authorities said that, when the unnamed trafficker was intercepted, he had 104 live snakes on him, including milk snakes and Texas rat snakes.

“During the inspection, customs officers found six canvas bags sealed with tape inside the pockets of the traveler’s pants,” China’s customs authority said Tuesday in a statement on the Chinese social media platform Weixin. “Upon opening the bags, they discovered multiple live snakes of various colors and shapes inside each bag.”

A video accompanying the statement showed officers inspecting zip-lock bags filled with reptiles. Many of the species are non-native to China and the authority said that it’s illegal “to carry or send live animals and plants into the country.”

“Violators will be held legally responsible,” they added, without specifying the man’s punishment.

China is notorious for animal trafficking and is considered a world hub for the illegal trade. Exotic animals are highly prized as pets, while other trafficked goods such as endangered shark fins are used as Chinese medicines.

But authorities have been cracking down on the illicit trade in recent years, handing down stiffer sentences, including, in some cases, life in prison.

China’s clampdown on the sale of wildlife for human consumption has even affected the snake trade in recent years, amid concerns of another outbreak of zoonotic diseases such as the coronavirus that sparked the pandemic in 2020.

Even so, killing snakes for food is not illegal and they are sometimes used in soups and liquor. Last year, Pizza Hut teamed up with a Hong Kong restaurant to offer shredded snake meat as a topping. The new option was inspired by a traditional stew generally enjoyed in southern China during colder months.

The snake-smuggling incident has caught the eye of China’s ophidian fans in China, with one comment under the border authority’s video reading, “it feels cool when they coil around your hand.” Another, in response to a question about snakes being difficult to pin down, says that “generally, they are very gentle. It’s quite different from catching eels.”

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