The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Snakes on a Train

As I boarded the train in Quang Ngai to Muong Mang with food poisoning last week, I made a crack on twitter about it being just like a Samuel Jackson movie, but without the really cool black guy. Or any toilet paper. Little did I know it really could have been a sequel to his movie, 'Snakes on a Plane.'

The story was all over the Vietnamese newspapers this week. Today its caught on in the international news media. A man tried to smuggle 45kg of venomous snakes (mostly king cobras) on board a passenger train in Quang Ngai. Here in Vietnam, wildlife trafficking is so common they don't count the number of animals--they count the number of kilos.

The deadly snakes were stuffed in mesh bags, apparently underneath the seat (or bottom bunk). When discovered, they caused such a commotion that the smuggler supposedly fled the scene without being caught. That or he paid someone off.

Some news media have reported that Vietnam is now 'on alert' over the incident, searching for other smugglers. I assure you, this is a gross overstatement. Local authorities mentioned that they would be keeping an eye out for similar smugglers on the train or highway for a grand total of... about one week following. Don't get your hopes up.

Other media have also reported that the snakes mouths were sewn shut and that after being confiscated, they were released into park land. According to sources, the cobras weighed about a kilo each. Can you imagine the smuggler sewing the mouths shut on 45 king cobras? How about untrained, probably unqualified park rangers removing the stitches on the mouths of 45 cobras? I sure can't. Lets use common sense. I don't really believe either of these claims.

Some have remarked that its really no big deal because the snakes must have been secured. In fact, train attendants never check baggage on the train. If they noticed the snakes at all, it means they weren't secure.

Cobras are protected under Vietnamese law. Yet we have a thriving industry selling bottles of rice wine with dead cobras stuffed inside, and serving cobras beating hearts and bile in glasses of wine to tourists. You can even ask all the most popular celebrity chefs, travel show hosts and guidebook publishers. They all recommend--put it on their TV shows and in their books. Yet these animals were all trafficked from the wild. Sadly the people who should be protecting Vietnam's last shred of wildlife are all turning the other way.

So before you buy that souvenir snake wine (which incidentally will potentially carry hefty fines should you be stopped by customs when you enter your country), consider the additional cost of that bottle: riding with, Snakes on a Train.

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