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.


Missing ‘Picasso’ thought found in Romania a hoax: report

In this Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012 file photo, the empty space where Henri Matisse' painting "La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune" was hanging, right, is seen next to a painting by Maurice Denis, center, and Pierre Bonnard, left, at Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam, Netherlands. (AP)
Updated 19 November 2018
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Missing ‘Picasso’ thought found in Romania a hoax: report

  • Romanian authorities said that it “might be” Picasso’s painting, which is estimated to be worth 800,000 euros ($915,000)

THE HAGUE: A writer who thought she had found a masterpiece by Pablo Picasso stolen in an infamous art heist six years ago said Sunday she was the victim of a “publicity stunt,” the NOS Dutch public newscaster reported.
Picasso’s “Harlequin Head” was one of seven celebrated paintings stolen from the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam, The Netherlands in 2012 during a daring robbery local media dubbed “the theft of the century.”
The artworks have not been seen since.
Around 10 days ago, Mira Feticu, a Dutch writer of Romanian origin who wrote a novel based on the heist, was sent an anonymous letter.
“I received a letter in Romanian with instructions regarding the place where the painting was hidden,” she told AFP.
The instructions led her to a forest in eastern Romania where she dug up an artwork.
Romanian authorities, who received the canvas on Saturday night, said that it “might be” Picasso’s painting, which is estimated to be worth 800,000 euros ($915,000). Experts were checking whether it was authentic.
However on Sunday night Feticu told NOS that she was the victim of a performance by two Belgian directors in Antwerp.
Feticu said she received an email from the Belgian duo explaining that the letter was part of a project called “True Copy” dedicated to the notorious Dutch forger Geert Jan Jansen, whose fakes flooded the art collections of Europe and beyond until he was caught in 1994.
“Part of this performance was prepared in silence in the course of the past few months, with a view to bringing back Picasso’s ‘Tete d’Arlequin’,” the directors wrote on their website.
Their production company “currently wishes to abstain from any comment” because it first wants to speak Fetuci, the statement said.
“We will be back with more details on this issue within the next few days.”