An Egyptian cobra got out of a carry-on bag and bit the hand of the passenger, Akram Abdul Latif, who had smuggled the snake onto an Egypt Air flight heading from Cairo to Kuwait. On hearing Latif’s screams, and those of other passengers on seeing the cobra, the pilots made an emergency landing in the Red Sea resort town Al Ghardaqa’s Hurgada airport.
Latif had been trying to control the snake, which had escaped from his luggage and was crawling under passenger’s seats.
While a cobra’s bite can cause death to a human in fifteen minutes and to an elephant in three hours (a cobra’s venom destroys nerve tissue), Latif said he had only received a “superficial injury” and refused treatment in a hospital. Latif, a Jordanian, says that he owns a reptile shop in Kuwait and is the owner of the snake. By Monday evening, he was on a plane bound for Kuwait.
While some media reports are treating the incident as humorous and a real-life case of “Snakes on a Plane,” it very much underscores the dangers of wildlife trafficking. Latif’s stashing the cobra in his carry-on was illegal and endangered the cobra, other passengers and the airplane crew (and, as illustrated in Latif’s case, he himself).
Care2 blogger Beth Buczynski has noted that illegal trafficking of wildlife is now the third largest criminal industry in the world. Cobras and other snakes are prized, and poached, for their skins according to the whims of the fashion industry. They are also hunted to be cooked and served in restaurants, out of the belief that they contain aphrodisiac powers. In November, 600 cobras destined for such a fate were seized in Thailand and the driver was charged with violating the Wildlife Preservation and Protection Act, though it remains to be seen what disciplinary measures he might face as conservation officers and regulations are in short supply.
There was no mention of penalties or other measures to be taken against Latif for endangering the lives of some 90 passengers, not to mention the cobra’s.
The fate of the cobra who resisted efforts to smuggle it remains unclear. An Egyptian Air official quoted in the Jordan Times said that Latif “insisted on taking the snake with him to Kuwait” but CNN says that local authorities confiscated the cobra. If the latter is the case, let’s hope the cobra is bound for something better than life as a pet.
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