Snakes on a train: Chinese man caught with 50 vipers in his suitcase

Passenger taken in for questioning after saying he planned to use the serpents to make snake wine

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 October, 2017, 3:06pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 October, 2017, 4:06pm

A man was stopped from boarding a train in eastern China on Sunday after security staff found a bag of 50 live vipers in his suitcase.

The man, who was not named, said he had bought the venomous serpents in Zhejiang province and was taking them home to the southern city of Guangzhou to make snake wine, Qianjiang Evening News reported on Monday.

Snake wine has been used as a tonic in traditional Chinese medicine for millennia, and remains popular in some regions of the country and in other parts of Southeast Asia.

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The passenger, who was aged in his 50s, was quoted as saying that he had travelled to Zhejiang to buy 4kg of pit vipers as a friend had told him they were cheaper there.

At the railway station, security guards became suspicious after seeing a writhing mass inside the man’s suitcase when it was passed through the scanner. When they asked him to open it they found the vipers inside a bag that had been wrapped in a towel.

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The snakes were confiscated and passed to the local forest police, who confirmed they were wild animals and not farmed. The man was also taken in for questioning, the report said. It did not specify what charges he might face, but trading in wild snakes is illegal in China.

Snake wine is made by soaking serpents in a large jar of rice wine or other strong alcohol – sometimes with added herbs – and leaving them to steep for several months until their “essence” and venom dissolve into the liquor. It is regarded as a panacea for all manner of health problems – from hair loss to leprosy – and as an aphrodisiac.

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Although the practice is believed to date back to China’s Western Zhou dynasty (1046-771 BC), making it at home can be hazardous.

In 2013, a woman in northeastern China’s Heilongjiang province was bitten on the hand by a venomous snake that had been soaking in rice liquor for three months. She was rushed to hospital but did not suffer any long-term effects.