Illegal smuggling of the Indian red sand boa to China is driving them to extinction

The snake sells for upto 2 crores in black — prized for its value in medicine, the fashion industry & black magic.

The red boa snake from India is on the verge of extinction and man’s greed, yet again, is to blame.

The Indian sand boa or Red sand boa, (scientific name Eryx johnii) is a snake species endemic to three countries: India, Pakistan and Iran. This non-venomous snake, as the name suggests, primarily lives in semi-desert areas and foothills, where it burrows and lives under the sand.

Over the past few months, there have been multiple reports of snakes being seized by forest and police personnel because they were being traded illegally. 20 snakes were seized from Mumbai, Thane, Raigad and various other parts of Maharashtra. The snakes are smuggled to China, Nepal and even to western countries because of its huge demand.

Illegal smuggling of the Indian red sand boa to China is driving them to extinction

The red sand boa. Image: Twitter/Sneha Dharwadkar

"With the help of our team of wildlife experts and veterinarians,  all the individual species were attended to and treated before being rehabilitated. It was seen that most of the snakes, which were rescued were starving, dehydrated, under-nourished, and under extreme trauma, stress," Pawan Sharma, an animal welfare officer and founder of the NGO Resqink Association for Wildlife Welfare (RAWW) told the Times of India. "More than nine snakes have also shed their skin during their transit-foster period which further indicated their improving natural instincts and overall health."

What makes the red boa so special?

Due to the snake's double-headed appearance, it lends itself to a fair bit of superstition. The tail of the snake, too, looks like a head — an evolutionary adaption that gives the boa a survival advantage. The snake quite a celebrity in the black market, as, according to superstition, it leads its owner to "hidden treasure" and "causes a shower of rain if used in certain black magic rituals", according to the Hindu.

Heads or tails? It's an expert's guess with the red sand boa. Image: Flickr

Heads or tails? It's an expert's guess with the red sand boa. Image: Flickr

The snake is thought to cure asthma, rheumatism, erectile dysfunction and joint pain among other ailments. Malaysian superstition also believes the red boa brings good luck. Other illegal uses of the snake's skin are in cosmetics and in making of purses, handbags, and jackets. Depending on it's intended use and its size, the snake can fetch illegal traders anywhere from a few lakhs to two crores in the black market.

Currently, the red boa is protected under Schedule four of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972.

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