Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011



Every day, five express trains run between Vietnam's two main metropolises, HANOI and SAIGON.  The thousand-mile trip takes just 36 hours so thousands of people take it every day.  Last week, things were pretty normal on the three morning trains, but then all hell broke lose on the first afternoon departure.  It's the Vietnamese National Train Number SE3.   Just as it pulled into the town of Quang Ngai, an inquisitive conductor noticed some oddly shaped cloth bags on the floor underneath the passenger seats.  Carefully, he untied the ropes on top and then peered in to shockingly discover the contents of the strange sacks: Dozens of live King Cobras!  Passengers screamed in horror as they slithered around on the floor.  Panic ensued and the smugglers manged to escape.

One passenger, PHAM VAN AN, described the chaos: "Some of the snakes were very big and looked terrifying. Most people ran away."  She continued: "But some people went up to look at them.  The cobras rose up!"  The next day, the chief of Forest Protection, NGUYEN VAN HAN, issued a statement.  He confirmed that 45 kilograms of live King Cobras were indeed smuggled onto the SE3 train, likely bound for Saigon restaurants where they sell for $200 each.  The largest snake was a whopping 2.3 meters long.   Fortunately, the mouths of all the cobras had been carefully sewn shut by the (very brave) smugglers.  All snakes had their mouths freed and have been released in a nature reserve.  We here at the DUNER BLOG are just glad we weren't on that train. Who wants to put their ass inches away from the world's largest venomous creature?  What if the stitches on their mouths come undone?  Can cobras gnaw through cloth?

Oops.  While these questions inevitably arise in the ugly world of snake smuggling, let's move on. While most other global news reports on this story would simply end at this point with a silly joke about the movie SNAKES ON A PLANE, we here at the DUNER BLOG are different.  We want to bring more awareness to the real issue at take: Bush Meat.  As mentioned in an earlier blog (See: Chimpanzee Massacre in the Congo) the hunting, trafficking, preparation and consumption of protected wildlife is a serious problem in Vietnam and other nations worldwide.  According to a survey by the environmental group Wildlife At Risk,  84% of restaurants in the city of Saigon serve illegal meat purchased from poachers.  More than half of Hanoi residents acknowledged recently consuming "at least one of the following:" Wild porcupine, bear, weasel, snake or...the best delicacy of them all...freshwater turtle!

While Vietnam does have strict laws regarding improper uses of wildlife, the enforcement of these regulations is a very daunting task.  With only one policeman for every 100,000 residents, Vietnam is one of the least patrolled nations on earth.  The Vietnamese justice system is similarly over-extended,  with astronomical delays for trials.  This, combined with decades of corrupt judges, makes it very difficult to convict offenders.  In fact, no one has ever served the entire mandatory seven year guilty sentence for violating animal protection laws.  These stats, combined with the rising population projections, makes the situation for delicious-tasting animals worldwide even more dire.  A century from now, when snakes and monkeys are extinct, people will wonder why our generation did nothing to stop it, despite having all the resources to do so.

Finally, we here at the DUNER BLOG decided to do some investigating reporting.  Our FedEx driver  is a Vietnamese citizen, so we asked him about his opinion.  He replied: "The best way to eat snake is in soup.  I like it when they add lots of garlic and mushrooms."  He went on to clarify why people eat snake instead of chicken (which of course is what it takes just like).  "When you eat snake, it really warms your insides" he noted, rubbing his belly.  NOTE: Snake meat is also known as an aphrodisiac, but Hung didn't mention that.  One last thought: If you do decide to go to Saigon for some King Cobra Snake Soup, just make sure you drink any of the venom.  There's enough NEUROTOXIN in one bite (0.2 ounces) to kill 20 people!

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