Tonnes of Snakes Seized in China near Burmese Border

By Patrick Boehler 25 February 2013

HONG KONG — Almost four tonnes of live snakes were confiscated by police near Ruili, China’s busiest border hub with Burma, last week, in one of the largest animal-trafficking busts along the border in recent history.

Police found 176 wooden crates with 4,815 live cobras, vipers and Indian rat snakes in a vehicle during the early morning raid. Some of the snakes will be released into the wild, the deputy head of the Dehong County Animal Rescue Center Li Yueti told China News Service, a national news agency.

One person was arrested in a raid by Ruili police in the early morning of Feb. 22, when police came across a car loaded with wooden crates on a road that follows the Burmese border, according a statement on the Ruili Forestry Administration’s public security bureau microblog on Sunday.

Police had received a tip-off and set up roadblocks earlier in February, Chen Huaguo, the bureau’s director, told China News Service. After 20 days of futile inspections, some roadblocks were relaxed to mislead the smugglers, he said, leading to the arrest at 4 am on Friday. Roadblocks are a daily sight along the border, with travelers complaining about going through up to three checks on the five-hour journey to neighboring Tengchong County.

A spokesperson for the Ruili Forestry Administration declined to comment on the nationality of the arrested suspect, saying the office was not allowed to communicate with foreign media.

Ruili is the land border-crossing with the largest turnover in legally declared exports of Burmese raw materials to China and Chinese manufactured goods to Burma, reaching US $2 billion in 2012, an increase of 19.9 percent compared to the previous year. Border police registered 12 million border crossings through Ruili in 2012, an increase of 50 percent over two years, according to locally released statistics.

But figures are only indicative of the trend of rising trade as smuggling continues to be a widespread practice along the largely unmonitored land border. Ninety percent of the border trade is done illegally, a local trader told The Irrawaddy during a recent visit. Some 20,000 Burmese live permanently in the city, according to a local estimate, mostly working in cross-border trade.

The local Forestry Administration’s public security bureau, which employs 37 people, has handled 273 cases of animal smuggling since the beginning of last year. Last November, it confiscated a rare Hoolock gibbon sold for about 100 yuan ($16) in Ruili. In 2004, the same bureau caught smugglers with 78 cut-off bear paws and 22 live pangolins.

Both China and Burma have signed and ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. Burma was “not generally in compliance” with the convention, the World Wildlife Fund said in a report on illegal trade of endangered species last year. In the same report, the NGO called on China to “urgently and dramatically improve enforcement efforts to crack down on illegal wildlife trade.”