Showing posts with label illegal trade in snake venom. Show all posts
Showing posts with label illegal trade in snake venom. Show all posts

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Venom Cartels

The Pioneer, New Dehli is carrying to following story.

Recovery of 500 ml cobra venom, estimated at Rs 2 crore, and two highly poisonous snakes from the national Capital hints at the ever-rising demand for drug pushers in the national Capital Region.

This is the fourth seizure of snake poison since November 2011 from Delhi. The latest recovery was made from a UP Roadways bus which was heading towards Meerut on Tuesday night.

Police have recovered two live snakes, a python’s child and a sand boa, along with a soft drink bottle containing 500 ml venom on Tuesday night. Police have also arrested two persons suspected to be carrying these to Meerut in Uttar Pradesh. The seizure came after an NGO tipped off Delhi Police, according to police.

BK Singh, Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police, (North-east), said, “At GT Road near Jhilmil Metro Station, the police stopped a bus (UP 42A T0673) and recovered a travel bag in the bus. It carried a box made of thermocol inside which two live snakes, a sandboa and a python’s child were found.

A soft drink bottle containing 500 ml cobra venom was also found inside the bag. We have arrested two persons, Moin and Mehboob, who were found carrying the bag.

A case under the relevant sections of Wildlife Protection Act has been registered against them in GTB Enclave Police Station, he said.

It is believed that the venom and snakes were brought to Delhi by a flight. The seized travel bag has a Go-Indigo airline’s tag attached to it. Besides on the thermocol box, a strip reading “X-ray and physically checked” was stuck. Addl DCP Singh said that they are probing to find out the exact details about the seized consignment.

Sourav Gupta, a senior employee of NGO People For Animals, said, “According to our information, the snakes and venom were being taken to Meerut and Nepal. It is possible that the venom was brought to Delhi in larger quantities and only 500 ml was being sent outside the capital.”

Police believe that well-organised cartels dealing in poison are operating in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) with the increase in the demand of snake poison by drug addicts. The highly addictive nature of the snake venom makes it a much sought-after article by the drug addicts. The snake venom, mostly extracted from Cobra and Krait, is sold as an esoteric narcotic that fetches hefty sums to smugglers.

This is the fourth recovery since November. Earlier, two back-to-back seizures of snake poison were made in November and December last year by the city police followed by third seizure a day before Valentine Day. Wildlife sources pointed out that around 100 snakes would have to be killed to extract 500 ml of venom.

According to animal welfare activists, the cobra venom is dried and processed to convert into powder.

“The cobra venom is first dried and then grinded into powder. It is highly addictive in nature. It is consumed after dissolving it in liquor. About 10 grams of powdered cobra venom is dissolved in 100 litres of alcohol. However, there are also instances of ‘higher-level’ addicts using venom in raw form,” Gupta said.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tiger Rattlesnake Venom, Lethal and Neurotoxic, Yet Simple

Crotalus tigris. JCM
Tiger rattlesnakes, Crotalus tigris, are relatively small (< 90cm), and geographically restricted to south-central Arizona (USA), northwestern Sonora (Mexico), and Isla Tiburón in the Gulf of California (Mexico). However they have been considered to produce the most lethal venom of any snake in the western hemisphere. Toxicological and immunology assays done in the early 1990’s suggested a neurotoxic component was present in its venom, and Mojave toxin was suspected to be the neurotoxic molecule present. Now, Calvette et al. (2012) have characterized Crotalus tigris venom and found tiger rattlesnakes to have the highest lethality for mice among rattlesnakes but the simplest toxin proteome reported to date; describing the venom proteome as “minimalist.” The venom proteins of C. tigris comprises 7–8 gene products from 6 toxin families, including the presynaptic β-neurotoxic heterodimeric PLA2, Mojave toxin, and two serine proteinases comprise, respectively, 66 and 27% of the C. tigris toxin arsenal. Other molecules included a VEGF-like protein, a CRISP molecule, a medium-sized disintegrin, and 1–2 PIII-SVMPs and each represented 0.1–5% of the total venom proteome. The authors suggest that the toxin profile explains the systemic neurotoxic and myotoxic effects observed in envenomated animals exceptionally well. They also found venom lethality of C. tigris and other North American rattlesnake type II venoms correlates with the concentration of Mojave toxin A-subunit, supporting the view that the neurotoxic venom phenotype of crotalid type II venoms may be described as a single-allele adaptation. They also suggest that the trend toward neurotoxicity, also reported for the South American rattlesnakes, may have evolved by pedomorphism, and that the development of a pan-American antivenom for all rattlesnakes may be possible.

Calvete, JJ, Perez, A., Lomontes, B., Sanchez, E., and Sanz, L. 2012. Snake Venomics of Crotalus tigris: The Minimalist Toxin Arsenal of the Deadliest Neartic Rattlesnake Venom. Evolutionary Clues for Generating a Pan-Specific Antivenom against Crotalid Type II Venoms. Journal of Proteome Research 11, 1382-1390

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Snake Venom Forensics

In the science fiction classic Bladder Runner, Harrison Ford's character  Rick Deckard tracks down a replicants (synthetic humans) using a scale from an artificial snake. The planet has been turned into a sewer, and most of its life forms other than humans have been obilterated. While we have not quite reached the level of environment degradation depicted in the film, we are consuming snakes at an alarming rate. For a variety of purposes including meat, skins, and venom.

The illegal trade in snake parts in many places in the world has increased in spite laws and legistation to protect snakes. Last August there was a story posted on this blog regarding the illegal trade in snake venom.

A raid on a hotel room in Kerala recovered  the venom and the the local magistrate sent venom samples to the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad. The smugglers were charged with illegal hunting and trafficking of a protected animal, both punishable by a prison sentence and fine of 25,000 rupees (about $500). The case is still pending.

 Now Indian scientists (Sing et al. 2012) at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad have developed a technique of identifying the species of snakes that produced a venom sample.  Their analysis used the primers for cytochrome b frpom the mitochondrial DNA genome and revealed that the venom was extracted from  Indian cobras (Naja naja). On the basis of this report, the  authorites were able to file charges against the accused for illegal hunting of the protected cobra and smuggling of snake venom. This approach potential for rapid identification of snake venom recovered by law enforcement. This paper is also the first report of DNA isolation from dried snake venom for species identification.

Extraction of DNA from snake venom  is difficult because when a snake voluntarily injects or ejects its venom, it usually does not contains snake cells. However, when humans exteact the venom by force tissues of the venom gland are most likely damaged and DNA becomes available from the cells mixed with the venom.

You know its only a matter of time before this becomes a plot on CSI, or one of its spin-offs.

Singh, C. S., Gaur, A., Sreenivas, A. and Singh, L. (2012), Species Identification from Dried Snake Venom. Journal of Forensic Sciences. doi: 10.1111/j.1556-4029.2011.02049.x

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Another Potential Product From Snake Venom

Texas Coral Snake, Micrurus tener tener.
National Natural Toxins Research Center,
Texas A&M University.

Snake venom is a potential source of many new medicines, and new research finds the Texas Coral Snake, Micrurus tener tener, has venom molecules capable of triggering an previously unknown pain mechanism in humans. There are many different types of pain some respond to changes in heat or pressure from a burn or a punched while  others respond to chemicals, such as acids. Micrurus venom triggers a novel pain receptor on nerves that could be useful in the development of drugs to treat snakebites or other painful phenomena in a targeted fashion without having to use opiates.

Texas coral venom has  MitTx which activates some nerve cells, by opening a channel on the outside of the skin's nerve cells, sending a signal up to the brain. Oddly, even though MitTx isn't acidic, it turned on a channel related to those that usually respond to acids.The channels' acid-sensing relatives produce pain when tissues are deprived of blood and oxygen, but MitTx is specific for a channel that hasn't been implicated in pain sensation before.The pain pathway uncovered here is not one previously studied.

Because this pain caused by MiTx is mediated through this newly discovered pathway, it's possible that traditional pain relievers such as aspirin, which work through different receptors, wouldn't help the pain. Pain from coral snake bites is usually treated opiates , like morphine, but a more targeted and less addictive pain reliever would be beneficial.

Bohlen, C. J. et al. 2011. A heteromeric Texas coral snake toxin targets acid-sensing ion channels to produce pain. Nature 479, 410–414 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Drug Cartels & Snake Venom

From the Khaleej Times On-Line, a story by Nithin Belle that stretches the imagination, but not in a positive direction.

Drug syndicates’ hand feared as demand for snake venom rises

22 October 2011 MUMBAI - The seizure of snake venom in Mumbai and Thane in recent days has led the police to suspect that a new syndicate dealing in the poison has emerged, as perhaps demand from drug addicts has grown.

Heroin addicts, who have virtually no space left on their limbs for injecting the drugs, are known to take snake bites on their tongues. Many addicts who have been abusing narcotic substances for years are also known to try snake venom to get a new high.

On Wednesday, Mumbai police arrested one Naeem Bakshi, 38, a Delhi resident, who was trying to sell a litre of snake venom, estimated to be worth Rs40 million, near Sion in central Mumbai. He has been remanded to police custody.

Police sources suspect that consumption of snake venom is on the rise, especially among drug addicts seeking a new high. This could have attracted drug syndicates into what could be a lucrative trade.

Last month, the Thane police arrested three persons who had in their possession 600 gramme of snake venom. Just a few days earlier they had arrested two others for illegally possessing snake venom. According to R.P. Shivdas, assistant commissioner of police, the venom was probably extracted from a king cobra. A few days ago, the anti-narcotics cell of Thane police arrested one Kiran Sagre, 34, from the Karad ST bus stand, with snake venom worth almost Rs25 million.

Police sources here say that snake venom is being sold as an esoteric narcotic and drug-pushers are extracting large sums of up to Rs4,000 for a prick of the poison. It can be highly dangerous, and only a few drug addicts are known to go for it. About two years ago, the Maharashtra government angered environmentalists by deciding to legalise the snake venom trade. The government allowed snake rescuers to engage in venom extraction activities in Nashik.

The objective was to enable snake rescuers, who catch snakes that stray into residential areas, to earn a livelihood. The government had set a ceiling of extracting venom from 8,000 snakes every year.

But environmentalists warned that this would encourage smuggling of snake venom and even result in an illegal trade in snake parts. They feared that the move would also result in large-scale killings of the reptiles.

Snake venom is used by a few pharmaceutical companies in India to produce life-saving drugs and antidotes to snake bites. The venom is usually extracted from the ‘big four’ Indian snakes — the cobra, common krait, Russel’s viper and saw-scaled viper.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Snake Venom Smugglers

Stories in the Malaysia National News Agency, Bernama.Com and the Deccan Chronicle are reporting snake venom smugglers are apparently extracting venom glands from snakes and leaving the snakes to die. Wildlife officials suggest the activity is done in remote areas by well organized syndicates. Illegal venom smuggling surfaced in Kerala and Orissa this week. The venom is used not only in the production of antivenom, but also as an aphrodisiac and is sold to snake charmers. Kedar Swain, a Balasore Forest Division officer, has a team who arrested five smugglers and seized 48 venomous snakes last week. The suspects were trying to sell the venom in Kasargod in the northern tip of Kerala. The suspectes were said to have had vipers, cobras, and a liter of venom.