Posing as buyers of an Indian sand boa, Forest enforcers on Saturday apprehended four men, allegedly part of an inter-State gang who illegally trade in wildlife articles, from near KIMS Hospital in the city.

The enforcers were part of a team led by Chief Conservator of Forest, Vigilance, Y.S. Yelaki, that had been tracking the group since August 26. On Saturday, they approached the group posing as buyers, and tricked the men into selling them a sand boa. An expensive van and a motorcycle have also been seized from the group.

Enforcers say the gang presented them the snake in a sand-filled bag. On checking, it was found to be the rare Indian sand boa, commonly known as the ‘double headed snake’ because of its blunt tail, which is often mistaken for its head.

When threatened, the snake tends to hide its head and wave its banded tail. It predates on earth worms and pests and conceals itself under sand or loose earth. It is sluggish and meek, compared to venomous varieties.

The accused told forest officials that they had fed the snake honey, grasshoppers, and earthworms and hoped to sell it for Rs.50,000 and upward. Investigators are yet to ascertain from where the snake was poached.

Remanded

The accused, Asokan, 35, of Tamil Nadu, Jibin, 26, his brother, Johnny, 30, and Santosh, all residents of Poonthura, were produced before the court and remanded in judicial custody for 14 days.

The seizure of the sand boa on Saturday is an indicator of the rising illegal trade in certain rare species of wildlife in the State, according to Forest Department officials here. Private profiteers posing as shamans and tribal medicine men are behind this.

The myth makers, mostly confidence tricksters who have a set of poachers on their payroll, convince impressionable people that the meat and blood of these animals have supernatural healing powers.

They often prescribe it as a panacea for ailments ranging from asthma to infertility. The Indian sand boa is also smuggled to foreign markets, where it is sold as a pet to rich collectors of exotic species.

Assistant Commissioner, Forest Intelligence Cell, B. Santosh Kumar says the Indian sand boa and barn owl, both classified as rare species under Schedule 4 of the Wildlife Act, are among the most hunted species for their blood and body parts.

Many rural youth trek forest areas for sand boas and also monitor lizards, which are much sought after for their meat, blood, hide, and claws.