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Black scorpion smuggling in Afghanistan is big business

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KABUL: The trade of scorpion hunting in Afghanistan, though unregistered, has been around for years but has become a lucrative business in the past few months.

A local dealer from western Herat province said Herat and neighboring Farah, with vast scorching deserts, have become the common hunting ground for shepherds and poor local residents who spend hours and sometimes days trying to catch scorpions.

Scorpions are in high demand for medical research, scorpion smoking and other uses. Its venom is used to develop compounds for anti-cancer medicines while it is a popular street-food snack in many countries, including China.

Requesting anonymity while talking to Arab News, the dealer explained that the invertebrates can cost an average of hundreds of dollars while one weighing 60 grams was sold for as much as $120,000. It all depends on the size of the scorpion and the broker’s offer, he said. “The final price of the scorpion increases with a hike in the number of brokers.”

The weight of the scorpion matters because, according to Khan, those weighing more than 40 grams have a longer life expectancy.

Scorpions hunted in neighboring Farah are brought to Herat city where local dealers compete with each other to find a foreign buyer for their merchandise. The buyers are often Chinese, Arab and Iranian nationals who take them out of the country for medical research and consumption purposes, the dealer told Arab News from Herat by phone.

“It has become a new lucrative business for the past few months now. In the old days we used to kill them (black scorpions) because they are very deadly, now we are chasing to find one,” he said.

While the trade is legal in parts of Pakistan, the authorities in Afghanistan are still considering whether to curb the practice, adding to the fear of local dealers who are avoiding being coerced into giving away their foreign buyers.

“The transaction is conducted in the underground or on social media,” said the dealer.

An investigative reporter for a local Kabul daily bought a 10 gram scorpion for $1,000 from a local dealer in Herat, disguising himself as a frontman for a foreign pharmaceutical firm, Hashte Sobh said in its May 29 edition.

Smuggling scorpions is easy as the creature is tough and can last in a hot climate, surviving in covered boxes without food for several weeks.

Lawmakers from the region have expressed their concern over the trade, especially its impact on the ecosystem.

A spokesman for Herat’s governor, Jailani Farhad, confirmed that the trade was taking place and said the authorities were looking into it.

“We are collecting facts and looking into legalities on whether such kind of trade of a rare type of insect is illegal or not. Instructions have been given to the local authorities in this regard,” Farhad told Arab News.

Kazim Humayoun, a Kabul-based ecological expert, said that Afghanistan has compiled a “Red List” that bars hunting and smuggling of 148 species of animals, birds and insects.

“There are species that have gone extinct and some are on the verge of extinction. The falcons here and another bird named Dogh Dogh have also been key attractions for local and Arab hunters in the past,” he said.

There is a high demand for scorpion venom, especially in the US and Europe, where — according to a report published in the Wall Street Journal — the product is sold for $39 million a gallon. (arabnews)