Sand Boas have been in the news. They are being stolen from protected environments! How could this happen? Or rather why does this happen?
“Trussst in me, jussssst in me
You can ssssssleep safe and sound
Knowing I’m around” hissed Kaa to a totally enchanted Mowgli in Jungle Book.
But Kaa’s cousins the Red Sand Boas, especially some of them who had the misfortune of spending their lives in sundry zoos and snake parks can’t even trust their keepers and sleep safe. Poaching in the wild is an occupational hazard for us denizens of the jungle but poaching from right under the protectors’ noses is a totally different game.
Eight sand boas were stolen from Guindy Snake Park, Chennai ( two of these who managed to slither out their captors’ clutches, were discovered later!) and three more from Vandalur Zoo, Chennai, all in two nights in July. Elsewhere, in the Trivandrum Zoo, around the same time, one sand boa went missing as also another kept under lock and key in the Government Ayurvedic College there. There have been more poacher tales from Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh where poachers have been caught with stolen snakes. In one bizarre instance, forest officials in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh caught some poachers with a boa weighing three kilos which they retrieved after paying a fine of Rupees one lakh! It only means one thing — the boas are going to fetch them huge, huge money in the market Boa poachers have also been caught in towns like Erode, Tirunelveli, Pollachi and Coimbatore.
Suddenly, the Red sand boas are becoming big on the poachers’ to do list. These poor creatures are totally harmless and non -poisonous. As an endangered species, they are protected under the Animal Protection Act. Of Wildlife Act 1972.
Coming back to why they have become hot property, it’s superstitions and myth that drive these poachers to smuggle the boas. Red Boas are said to bring good fortune and money to those who sprinkle their homes with the blood of these creatures. Poachers also have a huge market abroad where they are used for supposed medical research ( cure for leprosy, cancer, AIDS…) and in South Asian Countries, they are served up on the dinner tables. In the West, they prefer to keep the boas as pets since they are not poisonous and therefore harmless. A snake weighing around four kilos would fetch as much as a crore (100,00000) of rupees which is why there is such scramble to catch them from the forests, zoos, wherever else.
Sometimes, I wish these guys had the sting, don’t you ?
With a rather funky species name — Eryx johni, these boas are born red with black stripes. As they grow, the red dulls to orange and then to brown with maybe a few orange lines. A fully grown sand boa may sometimes measure up to three feet in length and have very polished scales. They have a wedge-shaped head, with a narrow nose and of course the trademark snake beady eyes. With their nose tips hard, allowing them to dig into the ground, they are good at burrowing. Their tail is what makes them unique — it is rounded, blunt and almost looks like its head, which is why they are called Do-mugha in Hindi and Eruthalai Pambu in Tamil. To confuse issues, they have a habit of coiling up and raising their tail when they get disturbed or alarmed.