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Snake venom smuggled from India to China: traditional medicine, rave drug or ‘absolute nonsense’?

Venom experts, however, have raised doubts about some of the claims – especially surrounding the substance’s supposed use as a rave drug.

Indian Border Security Force (BSF) officers arrested a man in the eastern border state of West Bengal on Thursday after recovering about 2kg of snake venom, worth some 120 million Indian rupees (US$1.4 million), from his home in South Dinajpur district.

They had acted on a tip-off about a local man “hiding a jar of snake venom”, Surjeet Singh Guleria, inspector general of operations at BSF Eastern Command, told this Week in Asia, adding that the substance had been sent for forensic tests and would be produced in court as evidence.

Criminals are increasingly taking advantage of the “porous” Indo-Bangladesh border to smuggle venom in various forms – including liquid, powder and gelatin – to China, Guleria said. According to BSF figures, more than 17.7kg of snake venom worth 1.65 billion Indian rupees was recovered from the border region between 2017 and last year.

When seized, the substance in some cases has often been found in crystal jars carrying “Made in France” labels, leading BSF officials to suspect it may have originated in Europe.

In one instance from 2022, a jar was found with a tag stating “Cobra SP, Red Dragon, Made in France Code No: 6097” written on a yellow metal plate.

But while it may be easier to smuggle venom than some other goods, it is unlikely that traffickers are importing it from France, according to Nathan Dunstan, general manager at Venom Supplies in Australia, which conducts venom research and produces venom and venom antibodies.

“Cobras are found across the Indian-Bangladesh-China region and I would think it would be more likely that the venom originated in this