Trafficking and “black magic” in Gujarat State, India: superstitious beliefs engender a troubled future for Red Sand Boas, Eryx johnii (Serpentes: Boidae)
We report on the use of Red Sand Boas, Eryx johnii, by abusive practitioners to promote superstitions that certain rituals involving these snakes advance human well-being and prosperity. The rescue of an adult sand boa in Gujarat State, India, documented the existence of “black magic” rites that include chanting by a performer and knife cuts and hammer blows to the snake. The rescued animal was found to have sustained severe injuries from open wounds and blunt force trauma, resulting in abscess formation and subcutaneous hematomas. We subsequently investigated the prevalence of such practices and the trade in Red Sand Boas across India through secondary reports from online sources and found that illegal trade and this type of brutal abuse are more frequent than previously thought. The placid, nonvenomous E. johnii appears to be the most sought-after snake used for these purposes, and these animals command high black-market prices. In the world’s second-most populated country, the increased marketability of E. johnii, a near-threatened species, amounts to a serious threat to the survival of these snakes and their plight should receive greater publicity and result in better enforcement.