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Snakes sneaked into Felixstowe

PUBLISHED: 10:19 06 October 2001 | UPDATED: 10:37 03 March 2010

HUNDREDS of shoes made from the skin of endangered snakes and sneaked into Britain via Felixstowe are heading to zoos nationwide to educate people about wildlife protection.

HUNDREDS of shoes made from the skin of endangered snakes and sneaked into Britain via Felixstowe are heading to zoos nationwide to educate people about wildlife protection.

The stash of 404 pairs of shoes and 44 handbags made from the skin of dog-faced water snakes was discovered in a Martlesham warehouse, in a shipment labelled "garments and handicrafts" and bound from Indonesia.

Customs investigators at Britain's largest container port became suspicious about the contents of the five wooden crates when they discovered the Birmingham firm that had ordered them, had used a de-registered VAT number.

Checks revealed that company was no longer at the address stated on the invoice and customs officials impounded the cargo only to find the illegal snakeskin stash in among a cargo of iron-work and clothing.

And while the accompanying paperwork stated the shoes were made from dog-faced water snakes, the cargo lacked the paperwork to prove the animals – protected by the international CITES agreement (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) – had been legally exported from Indonesia.

Lance Cruse, customs wildlife and endangered species officer at Felixstowe, said: "A few years ago there was a big explosion of killing endangered snakes in Indonesia. It's not as bad now as it is being closely monitored and permits are issued (to kill snakes) to keep an eye on numbers. They are endangered."

There was nothing to prove the Felixstowe cargo had been legally killed and exported, however.

Mr Cruse said the shoes should have been accompanied by proper documentation to show they originated in Indonesia and had a permit to be killed but there was no such paperwork with this cargo.

"A lot of this form of snake tend to come out of Korea where they are being decimated by the thousand. Many are then sent through Indonesia to places such as Bali from where the [traders] hope they won't get caught."

Customs investigators believe the reptilian cargo impounded in Martlesham was bound for the boutiques of Paris.

Instead, the snakeskin shoes are heading for zoos and displays around Britain where they will be used to educate youngsters about protecting endangered species.

N

Dog-faced water snake facts

The snakes get their name from their distinctive head shape with large scales, small eyes and well-defined lips.

Found mostly in slow-moving waters in mangroves and brackish rivers.

Dog-faced watersnakes feed mainly on fish though larger ones may prey on eels, catfish and mullet as well as crabs.

Their level of protection under CITES is Appendix III.

nWeblinks

www.cites.org

www.hmce.gov.uk

www.naturia.per.sg/buloh/verts/water_snake.htm

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