Reptile Smuggling Attempt At Chennai Airport – Astounding 22 Snakes Seized

A female traveller was arrested at Chennai International Airport (MMA), India, last week as part of a reptile smuggling attempt involving the concealment of 22 different kinds of snakes and a chameleon inside her check-in baggage.

Chennai Airport India
Chennai International Airport was the scene of a recent reptile smuggling attempt. © aotaro

Remamba To Check Your Luggage

On Friday 28th April, Chennai Customs reported the interception of an Air Asia passenger whose luggage was found to contain an astounding 22 snakes, comprising numerous species, and a lone chameleon.

The reptiles were reportedly stored and transported in transparent plastic containers and were subsequently seized under India’s Customs Act and Wildlife Protection Act.

The passenger, arriving from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was arrested and appeared before a local court on Saturday 29th April, before being sentenced to judicial custody for a period of 14 days.

At the time of publication, it is unclear as to how the reptiles avoided detection at their departure destination and if/when any follow-up action will be taken against those involved in the security breach.

Chennai Customs Tweet
Chennai Customs shared news of their shocking discovery on their Twitter page © Chennai Customs

Reptile Smuggling Attempts — A Global Issue

Organised wildlife crime is a worldwide problem, and Asia, in particular, is the oft-cited destination (or possible transit destination) for the illegal reptile trade.

According to data from the United Nation’s World Wildlife Seizures (World WISE) Database, seizure records from around the world show that the largest markets for illegally traded reptiles are:

  • Reptile skin or shells used in the décor or fashion industries
  • Reptile meat, organs or venom consumed as food, tonic or medicine
  • Live reptiles used as pets, for zoos or for breeding

The UN’s World WISE Database also reports that most international trafficking of live reptiles involves transport by air: 56% of live reptile seizures are reported to include air transport in their transport information. Mail and air courier services are also cited as an increasingly used means of smuggling endangered wildlife.

Owing to the cruel methods of concealment employed by criminals, mortality rates remain high, with high proportions of animals succumbing to either suffocation, dehydration or starvation.

Banded Krait
Reptiles are a key target of animal smugglers around the globe © Akira Hsu

Slithering Into The News

Recent hisstory shows that snakes have quite the knack for making their way into aviation news in one way or another.

In early April, a pilot flying a small passenger plane to Cape Town, South Africa, was forced to make an emergency landing in the city of Welkom after discovering a highly venomous snake under his seat whilst in the air.

In January, a passenger was intercepted at Florida’s Tampa International Airport (TPA) for attempting to take her “emotional support snake” on board a plane inside of her carry-on luggage.

What are your thoughts on this bizarre reptile smuggling attempt? Do you think the sentence for the crime was sufficient? Let us know in the comments!

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Rachel Dunster
Rachel Dunster
Aviation Reporter