The Red Sand Boa Bubble

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A peculiar belief that worshipping a Red Sand Boa snake will make one wealthy has been sweeping the four southern states and Maharashtra in the past year. The spurt in demand has led to farmers in south Karnataka clandestinely breeding the  species, protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, in clay pots.

Last week, a politician in Andhra Pradesh reportedly paid Rs 4 lakh to a snake charmer to hire the snake for two hours while conducting Laxmi Puja.  “There is evidence that some forest officials and policemen are Boa-scouting for politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen,” says R Sharath Babu, a wildlife activist who liaisons between the forest and police departments.

The belief is that if the snake weighs four kg and is three feet long, it will bring in the moolah. It takes about six to eight months for Sand Boas to grow to those specifications but farmers hasten the process. “They forcefully feed the snakes to increase their weight. A dead Boa that we recovered had been injected with grease, perhaps that’s whyit died and was just thrown on the roadside,’’ says Babu.

The thriving illegal trade has prompted the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to issue an advisory to state governments to step up efforts to curb it. Nearly 200 cases of rearing and trading in Red Sand Boas have been registered, with nearly a 100 from Bangalore and Kolar districts, the natural habitat of the snake. Karnataka’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), BK Singh says the trade has become a headache for his department. “Now, the demand is such that farmers are venturing into forests to catch and then rear them in pots,’’ he says. Most cases were registered after using decoys who pose as buyers. The initial price asked for can be in lakhs though it is usually negotiated downwards. Of late, the demand for these Boas has been coming in from Coimbatore, Tirupati and parts of Kerala.