By Emma Una
CALABAR—THERE was noticeable tension in Calabar, Cross River State, as the Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jubril, handed over 145 snakes and reptiles to the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, for scientific research. The reptilees were on transit to Europe, seized by the Nigerian Customs Service, after they were smuggled into Nigeria from Cameroon.
Apprehension gripped Customs, forest officers and quarantine officials of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Calabar, where the Quarantine section of the Ministry of Environment is located, as snake experts from the University of Uyo made to open the boxes containing the snakes, spiders, geckos and millipedes.
Newsmen were asked to view proceedings from the window to avoid any “accident”, while the minister, senior Customs and quarantine officials remained by the door to watch as the boxes were sawn open with a hacksaw.
Respite: After about an hour, the boxes were thrown open and it was discovered to the relief of everybody that the 145 snakes and other reptiles plundered illegally from the rainforest were not loaded at random into the boxes, but “professionally packaged” and could even be touched without immediate harm.
Porous port, airport, water channel
Speaking while handing over the reptiles, the minister said the importers wanted to use Nigeria as a transit point to smuggle the items whose destination as seen on the boxes that were laden, was Rotterdam and Luxemburg as against Asia that was originally suspected. “The importers thought they could use Nigeria water channel or airports to smuggle the reptiles because they regard our ports, airports and water channels as easy transit points for their nefarious activities, but thanks to the Customs Service for its vigilance, they intercepted the items,” he asserted.
Jibril said the reptiles have the capacity of wiping out the country’s fauna if released to the wild without proper research that was why the ministry decided to release them to the University of Uyo to conduct the appropriate research on them before deciding what to do with them.
Professionally packaged for export
Snake expert, Dr. Edem Eniang, of the Department of Forestry and Natural Environment Management, UNIUYO, who took delivery of three boxes, stated that the snakes were professionally packaged for export and that the venom in African Mambas was the best and the most sought after in Europe for the treatment of stroke and high blood pressure.
He disclosed that the snakes would have been milked for their venom by those who smuggled them had they arrived their destination. Eniang said the snakes would be separated and those still alive would be trained in a snake farm and thereafter, milked for their venom to be used for scientific research by the University.