The surprising discovery was made by US Customs and Border Protection officers.
A Southern California man was arrested on the suspicion of illegally importing snakes and other reptiles. The man, named Rodrigo Franco, was taken into custody when the US Customs and Border Protection discovered a package of potato chip canisters with three live, about 2 ft long, highly venomous king cobras crammed into the canisters. Federal prosecutors claim that 34-year old Franco had arranged to smuggle the three, live king cobra snakes into the US. The parcel, arriving from Hong Kong, with the king cobras concealed inside the canisters, was intercepted on March 2 by the authorities.
The king cobra, or Ophiophagus hannah, is the world’s longest venomous snake, with a length reaching up to 18 ft. When confronted, king cobras raise their bodies off the ground, flare their hoods, and strike to inject the deadly venom into the bloodstream of their victim. The import and export of king cobras, a protected species under the Endangered Species Act, is banned under the CITES regulations.
The package also held three albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles. Prosecutors said that on the same day, Franco had mailed a box with six protected turtles inside to Hong Kong.
The package smuggled by Franco held 6 protected turtles-ornate box turtles, desert box turtles, and three-toed box turtles. The US Fish and Wildlife Service intercepted the shipment.
The Customs and Border Protection seized the snakes as they posed great danger due to their highly venomous nature. The turtles were, however, delivered to Franco’s Monterey Park home which was being raided by the special agents from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
During the search conducted at Franco’s home, a tank with a live baby Morelet's crocodile and tanks holding five diamondback terrapins, alligator snapping turtles, and a common snapping turtle were discovered in a bedroom. All these species are protected species.
In a subsequent interview with the authorities, Franco revealed that he had received two prior shipments of 20 king cobras, all of which died in transit.
The authorities also obtained evidence that revealed that Franco discussed shipping snakes and turtles between Asia and the US with an Asian individual. If convicted, Franco will face a 20 years’ statutory maximum sentence in federal prison.
- By Oishimaya Sen Nag