A Chinese air traveler on Monday attempted to smuggle 200 live scorpions out of Sri Lanka in his checked bags, according to Geo TV.
The man was arrested at a departure gate at Bandaranaike International Airport as he was trying to board his SriLankan Airlines flight to Guangzhou, China, Colombo Page reported. Authorities have not released his name.
The 30-year-old was detained and fined about $550, the news organizations reported. During questioning, the man admitted to illegally transporting animals from different countries to his home country for breeding and selling purposes, according to the paper. He said he traveled to various parts of Sri Lanka in search of scorpions, guided by information received from drivers of “tuk tuks,” or three-wheeled taxis.
The man was eventually allowed to return home, the BBC reported.
His scorpions, which were neatly packed in plastic containers, were taken from him, according to Geo TV.
Sunil Jayaratne, a spokesman for Sri Lanka’s customs department, told Geo TV the value of the scorpions hasn’t been determined and noted wildlife trafficking has become a “lucrative trade.” Officials indicated he might have been planning to extract venom from the arachnids once he returned to China, according to the BBC.
There are nearly 2,000 species of scorpions, the outlet stated, and about 18 kinds live in Sri Lanka. The hottentotta tamulus, known as the “red scorpion” on the Indian subcontinent, is the only venomous scorpion found in Sri Lanka that’s deadly to humans.
Bites from the fat-tailed crawler can cause localized inflammation, heart attack or death, according to a SAGE Open Medical Case Reports study. But despite its danger, some say controlled doses of scorpion venom can help in the treatment of arthritis, multiple sclerosis, cancer and lupus.
It is illegal to export live scorpions overseas without a permit, according to Sri Lanka’s Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, and violators face fines or jail time.
The laws haven’t stopped wildlife trafficking in the country, however.
In June, eight Sri Lankans were charged with selling baby elephants to the wealthy as status symbols, France 24 reported. It was the first elephant-trafficking case in Sri Lanka’s legal history, state attorney Nishara Jayaratne told the outlet. The men face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Wildlife experts suspect 40 baby elephants were sold for about $125,000 each over 10 years, according to France 24.