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
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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.


After conquering Broadway, ‘Hamilton’ eyes global tour

Updated 16 June 2019
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After conquering Broadway, ‘Hamilton’ eyes global tour

  • Created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show charts Caribbean-born Hamilton who rises through his smarts and determination to become a key military aide to George
  • The push for more overseas performances comes as “Hamilton” mania remains as strong as ever in its home market

NEW YORK: After triumphing on Broadway, the lower 48 states and London’s West End, “Hamilton” is eyeing its first non-English production as well as tours throughout Europe and Asia.
The much-decorated musical, currently being staged nightly in London and New York as well as four other US cities, last month announced plans to launch in Sydney in early 2021 in a production expected to tour Australia before going to Asia, its producer said in an interview.
The “Hamilton” team is also working with a German hip-hop artist and playwright to develop a German-language version of the work.
The show, which is performed by a mostly non-white cast and mixes pulsating rap numbers with ballads and traditional musical numbers, has been credited with invigorating Broadway, thrilling audiences of all ages and across the political spectrum.
Producer Jeffrey Seller told AFP he sees a lot of international interest in the show. Australians frequently stream its soundtrack, Germany has long been receptive to American musicals and a Mexico City show, perhaps in Spanish, is also a possibility.
“My hope is that our story is resonant to people all over the world as a story of revolution, as a story of ambition, as a story of self-realization,” said Seller, who has been called the “CEO of Hamilton Inc.”
“I think Alexander Hamilton’s journey is universal.”
The push for more overseas performances comes as “Hamilton” mania remains as strong as ever in its home market.
Created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show charts Caribbean-born Hamilton — introduced as “a bastard, orphan son of a whore” — who rises through his smarts and determination to become a key military aide to George Washington during the American Revolution and later the architect of the US financial system in the republic’s early days.
Hamilton was killed in a duel in 1804 by Aaron Burr, a foil throughout the show and the character who sings “The Room Where It Happens,” a jazzy show-stopper about political horse-trading.
Nearly four years after its Broadway debut, the show completely sold out during the just-ended 2018-9 season, garnering almost $165 million, or nine percent of Broadway’s total in a record-setting season.
Business is also brisk for three national touring companies, which typically perform three- and four-week stints in American cities of varying size.
The “Angelica” touring company — named for Hamilton’s sister-in-law in the musical — made its Louisville premiere earlier this month at the Kentucky Center. The venue seats 2,400, about 1,100 more seats than the musical’s Broadway home at the Richard Rodgers Theater.
Anticipation for the show boosted subscriptions for touring Broadway shows in Louisville this season by nearly 20 percent, said Leslie Broecker, Midwest president for Broadway Across America, who calls the show a “catalyst” in attracting new audiences.
Shannon Steen, a University of California professor specializing in performance studies and race theory, attributes the show’s domestic success to Miranda’s skill at blending musical genres while appealing to diverse political constituencies.
The show “confirms this idea that America can serve as a city on a hill for global democracy,” a theme that resonates with conservatives, Steen said.
At the same time, signature lines such as “immigrants get the job done” have emerged as applause points for critics of US President Donald Trump’s harsh immigration policies, which parallel similar debates in other markets.
The show’s themes about immigration “will likely not resonate in the same way (as in the US), but it will be interesting to see how those things are taken up by audiences in other countries,” Steen said.
International investments will be tailored by market. Seller expects an English-language version of “Hamilton” to play in Paris perhaps for an eight- or 10-week run as part of a European tour around 2022-23.
He said the French have not shown much hunger for past American musicals, but that this show — which features a prominent French character in the Marquis de Lafayette — could spawn a French-language version if it sells well.
But Germany has for years been a robust market for US musicals, including “Wicked” and “Lion King,” and “they have the population to support it for a long run,” Seller said.
Stephan Jaekel, a spokesman for Stage Entertainment in Germany, which has been overseeing auditions for “Hamilton,” said the aim is to open in the fall of 2020 in Hamburg, but that a final deal has yet to be signed.
“We much look forward to presenting it to German audiences and hope to be able to start ticket sales soon,” Jaekel said in an email.
Seller hopes to announce the show in the coming months.