A bizarre case of wildlife trafficking has surfaced with the Punjab Police apprehending a poacher at the Shambu barrier, Rajpura, who was carrying a 5.5-foot snake, which had been painted over with brown colour to make it resemble a Common sand boa, a species that is highly valued in the international market.
The snake, which experts have identified as an Indian rock python falling under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, had its tail lopped off so that it resembled the two-faced look of the boa. "Its eyes are covered with paint and it is in a critical condition. The tail has been chopped off cleverly and by a person who is knowledgeable in snakes as the anal orifices have not been affected by the cut. The cut in the tail has also been done in such a manner that its thickness at that point matches the size of the mouth,"' a Punjab Forests and Wildlife Preservation department official told Hindustan Times.
Punjab chief wildlife warden Dhirendra K Singh said, "It is a Wart snake, also known as an Elephant trunk snake or File snake. It is not found in this region. It is an aquatic snake, which lives in mud. It has not been painted but was covered with mud. It falls under Schedule IV of the Wildlife Act."
This was contradicted by the veterinary inspector at Patiala, Surinder Singh, who said: "The snake was a viper. It was seized by the police from Balwinder Kumar, son of Gokul Chand. Kumar lives in Ludhiana and was taking the snake there. We have booked him under Sections 9, 39, 50 and 51 of the Wildlife Act. Kumar has been sent in judicial custody. The snake has been sent to Chhatbir zoo."
However, Punjab State Wildlife Advisory Board member Nikhil Sanger, who has rescued and dealt with thousands of snakes, is categorical. "This is a python. Illegal trade in pythons can lead up to seven years in imprisonment. The attempt by the poachers was to pass off a python as a boa by painting it and cutting off its tail, as the latter sells for lakhs of rupees. The snake is not responding to mud treatment at the Chhatbir zoo where it is being kept, indicating further that it is not an aquatic snake living in mud.
Neither has the mud come off with washing off the snake with warm water. I suspect an attempt is being made to hush up the case."
Sanger's opinion is also strengthened by the fact that the Wildlife department has not gone in for a DNA test from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, where other animals at the zoo have been similarly tested in the past. Neither has the department asked for an expert to conduct a scale count of the snake, which would scientifically establish the species.