The Maharashtra state wildlife wing has exposed thriving illegal venom trade in the region. On Wednesday 12 snake catchers (sarpa mitras) were arrested for smuggling venom for huge money. The wildlife wing seized 8ml of cobra venom estimated to be worth Rs. 7-8 lakh. The forest officials also seized seven live cobras, a chameleon and a grass snake, besides six motorcycles and 14 mobile phones from them.
The assistant conservator of forests (ACF), wildlife wing, Vidarbha, Kishore Mishrikotkar, informed that the wildlife wing with the help of police department raided a house on Wednesday evening and made the seizure. All the accused were college students. During interrogation, they revealed that they used to sell the venom to their customers and they used to get huge money in return.
According to the forest officer, the wildlife wing had received several complaints from local nature-lovers and NGOs about the alleged clandestine venom trade going on in the region. Some so-called sapramitras were under the wildlife wing scanner. "We were following them for the last few months. After confirmation, we laid a trap by sending decoy customers on Wednesday," Mishrikotkar informed.
The accused were identified as: Nilesh Mankar, Mohan Patel, Ajay Wankhede, Ajay Patil, Naresh Gajbhiye and Vishal Dambhare. Four members of the syndicate are still at large. Two of them are said to be residents of Nagpur, one from Amravati and another is from Akola. They have been booked under section of 39 (9), 49 (B), 52 and 57 of the forest act.
The department did not divulge the names of accused sarpa mitras who are absconding, but it is learnt that they are from Akola, Gadchiroli and Amravati.
Some snake mitras from Nagpur, who used to rescue snakes and have their pictures published in local dailies, are also linked to the trade.
The accused had printed visiting cards with their pictures displaying snakes and contact numbers and distributed them to residents. People used to call these sarpa mitras for rescuing snakes.
Taking advantage of this, many youths become sarpa mitras overnight and started rescuing snakes and become part of the lucrative venom trade. The accused used to keep snakes at home and extract their venom. Later, they used to sell it in market that fetched them large amount of money.