While Barbadians reacted with shock to the news that a Barbados bound passenger attempted to smuggle a snake into the island on Sunday, it is being reported that there is a huge local underground market for reptiles.
A professional in the animal care business told Barbados TODAY the reptile black market is alive and well here with some of the illegal serpents fetching hundreds of dollars.
“There are bearded dragons [lizards] that sell at wholesalers for US$20, which sell here for BDS$700. That is big mark up and huge return on investment,” the professional, who requested anonymity, said, while adding that the price on the local market for a snake could start at BDS$800, therefore keeping such animals out of the hands of people who simply could not afford to maintain them.
According to media reports out of Florida, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers at Miami International Airport found a python inside an external hard drive that was hidden inside a piece of luggage headed for Barbados.
“The snake, that didn’t get on a plane thanks to our officers’ diligent screening, had been artfully concealed inside the electronics of a hard drive and placed in a checked bag headed for a flight to Barbados,” the Miami Herald quoted TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz as saying.
The paper said US Fish and Wildlife Services officials responded to the scene and took possession of the snake, and the passenger was fined.
It also quoted the TSA spokeswoman as saying while the reptile was “obviously not an imminent terrorist threat” to airline passengers, the interception prevented a possible wildlife threat on an aircraft. “Animals of many species have been known to escape and chew through wires with fatal results,” the paper quoted Koshetz as saying.
However, the animal care professional who spoke to Barbados TODAY said the confiscation of the snake may have left an eager buyer here disappointed.
At the same time, he said it was nothing but a small setback for smugglers, and would not deter those involved in the illegal trafficking of the reptiles.
“The snake trade, as many snakes that are brought . . . they sell comfortably and easily for very high prices and men are ready to order again as soon as people bring them in,” he said, even as he added that the local snake importers have slithered underground now that the spotlight is on the operations.
The animal carer explained that the illegal trading in reptiles and exotic animals is fed by a ban on the importation of these animals.
He told Barbados TODAY that in the past Barbadians could have applied for permits to import and keep reptiles, but Government stopped issuing such permits in recent years, creating the perfect conditions for a black market.
“Anytime you have a knee-jerk reaction to something that people want, you basically open a market for people who are willing to supply them and that is what has happened.
“Somebody who wants to keep a snake as a pet, who would have settled for some innocuous reptile like a ball python, can’t do that now because there is no facility for you to do it safely and legally. So there is a huge market for the people who are willing to take the chance as long as the price is right,” he said.
However, President of the Barbados Reptile Association Rico Sandiford suggested that the animal care official exaggerated the size of the black market for snakes.
And even as he condemned the smuggler, Sandiford said there could be some good to be derived from the importation of snakes.
Sandiford told Barbados TODAY Government should discuss the issue with his organization because the reptiles could be a way to help boast to the country’s dwindling foreign reserves.
“I don’t think the black market is a huge problem. Some people are making it out to be bigger than it actually is. This whole thing could stop if they allow certain people permits to import and export the reptiles and it would help with the foreign exchange and employment,” he said.
Sandiford explained that the humidity in Barbados was ideal for breeding and the country should seriously consider tapping into a market.
“The conditions are right in Barbados to breed certain species of snakes. People may laugh but it is serious. There are some ball pythons on the market that you could get for US$85,000, [so] financially it could bring in foreign exchange,” he added.