Red sand boa rackets: tribals do actual stealing for agents

The nomadic people evade the law and action stops with smugglers’ arrest: cops

Red sand boa smuggling rackets, which have been busted in various parts of the State, thrive on nomadic tribals, who do the actual stealing for the smugglers, police investigations have revealed.

Over the past two years, the police in Thane, Mumbai, and Palghar have arrested several accused who were allegedly smuggling or trying to sell the snake, a protected species, on the black market. The snake, which appears two headed, is in high demand as it carries with it a lot of superstitious beliefs, including that it can lead its owner to hidden treasure.

The police have found that while it is easy to arrest the agents trying to sell the snakes based on human intelligence, those who actually steal them continue to evade the law.

“Investigations have revealed that tribal residents of the interiors of the State, where red sand boas are found, catch the snakes and supply them to the agents for a price. Since these tribals are nomadic, apprehending them is a challenge because they never stay in the same place for long. Hence, the police action often stops with the arrest of the agents,” police inspector Nitin Thakre, Unit I, Thane Crime Branch, said.

Officials with the Mumbai Crime Branch, whose Unit XII had made a similar arrest in Borivali last year, said once the agents get their hands on a snake, it is easy to smuggle them anywhere in the State in a bag, without drawing attention. A single snake can fetch anything up to ₹2 crore on the Indian black market, depending on how superstitious the buyer is.

“For a nomadic tribal, who makes his living on a day-to-day basis, even a fee of a few thousand rupees is more than enough,” a Mumbai Crime Branch officer said.

Similar cases were also registered by the Palghar Crime Branch in 2017 and 2018, and the latest case was by the Forest department, who arrested a 28-year-old Badlapur resident in Kalyan while allegedly smuggling a red sand boa.

Accused arrested for such offences are charged under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which prohibits trafficking and sale of animals that fall under protected species.

The snakes are mainly found in Marathwada, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, and the sheer ease with which they can be smuggled makes it difficult to map a specific trend and consequently to initiate a crackdown on the rackets.

The police, over the years, have also probed the possibility of accused being arrested in the State being connected to international rackets. Due to the supposed use of certain secretions produced by the red sand boa in Chinese alternative medicine, it is also in great demand in China, where it sells for as much as ₹4 crore on the black market.

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