Nearly 200 pythons, representing 24 of the “most dangerous species in the world,” were bought and sold as part of a secret investigation of illegal wildlife trafficking in Florida, according to wildlife officials.
Eight traffickers were charged with charges ranging from second-degree misdemeanors to third-degree felonies on Jan. 12 as a result of an undercover investigation called “Operation Snake,” according to the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission.
During the investigation, which began in 2020, undercover investigators traded nearly 200 snakes with wildlife smugglers, according to a press release from the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The species, which were from seven regions of the world, include the inland taipan, bushmaster, rhinoceros, African bush viper, Gabon viper, green mamba, eyelash viper and multiple species of spitting cobra, the statement said.
“Some of these snakes are among the most dangerous in the world,” said Maj. Randy Paulin, chief of investigations and intelligence for the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Law Enforcement Division. “Florida’s rules and laws are in place to protect the public and prevent tragedies.”
The statement said that illegal trafficking was mostly carried out through private websites or special pages on social media, where “black market deals” were arranged. The smugglers then meet in person to buy or sell the snakes.
According to the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, it is illegal in Florida to “capture, keep, possess, or display” any venomous reptile without a special permit.
Among the people accused in the investigation were wholesalers who were accused of importing “large shipments” of venomous snakes from several countries around the world, according to the statement.
“If these illegal and dangerous non-native species escaped, they could easily live and reproduce in the subtropical climate of Florida,” the statement reads.
The inland or western taipan, which is listed by the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission as one of the most trafficked species in the state, is the most dangerous rattlesnake in the world, according to Britannica. The species is native to Australia.
When the snake strikes, it injects an extremely potent venom into its victim, according to the Australian Museum. The venom is also able to spread through the body, making a bite potentially life-threatening.
“We fight every day to keep people alive and minimize permanent complications after a tragic bite,” said Dr. Benjamin Abo, principal investigator and medical director of the two poison response units, in a statement. “The rules for the transportation, confinement and handling of these animals are in place for important reasons.”
The investigation also revealed that many traffickers illegally imported snakes from their countries of origin, according to the statement. In many cases, black marketeers “launder” snakes purchased illegally through legitimate facilities so that they can be sold without knowing their provenance.
Investigators found evidence that some of the suspects were planning to release banned species into native habitats in Florida so that they could establish an “accessible wild breeding population” to advance their smuggling scheme, the release said.