Black scorpion smuggling in Afghanistan is big business

The trade of scorpion hunting in Afghanistan has been around for years but has become a lucrative business in the past few months. (Getty images)
Updated 01 June 2018

Black scorpion smuggling in Afghanistan is big business

  • Black scorpions can cost on average hundreds of dollars; one weighing 60 grams was sold for as much as $120,000, according to a local Herat dealer.
  • The final price of the scorpion increases with a rise in the number of brokers.

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.


Australia’s Great Barrier Reef status lowered to critical and deteriorating

Updated 03 December 2020

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef status lowered to critical and deteriorating

  • Australia’s northeastern coast has lost more than half its coral in the past three decades

MELBOURNE: The health of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the world’s most extensive and spectacular coral reef ecosystem, is in a critical state and deteriorating as climate change warms up the waters in which it lies, an international conservation group said.
The World Heritage-listed site off Australia’s northeastern coast has lost more than half its coral in the past three decades.
Coral-bleaching in 2016, 2017 and 2020 has further damaged it health and affected its animal, bird and marine population, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said in a report.
Such bleaching occurs when hotter water destroys the algae which the coral feeds on, causing it to turn white.
The union moved the reef’s status to critical and deteriorating on its watchlist.
Some activities which threaten it, like fishing and coastal development, can be tackled by the management authorities, the union said.
“Other pressures cannot be addressed at the site level, such as climate change, which is recognized as the greatest threat,” it said.
Progress toward safeguarding the reef under a long-term sustainability plan through to 2050 has been slow and it has not been possible to stop its deterioration, it said.
The turtle populations — including loggerhead, hawksbill and northern green — as well as the scalloped hammerhead shark, many seabird populations and possibly some dolphin species are declining.
Efforts to safeguard the reef are rising, however. HSBC and the Queensland government said in October they would buy “Reef Credits,” a tradable unit that quantifies and values the work undertaken to improve water quality flowing onto the reef.
Similar to the carbon offset market which incentivizes the reduction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the scheme pays landholders for improved water quality.