Hong Kong customs discover 2,600 live snakes in 'fruit' shipment

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong customs authorities investigating a shipment from Thailand marked as fruit were shocked to discover the consignment instead contained 2,600 live snakes, officials said on Friday.

Customs intercepted the air cargo shipment of 2,400 common rat snakes and 200 cobras on Tuesday and returned them on Thursday, a government spokeswoman said, just days before the start of the Year of the Snake in the Chinese horoscope.

The intended fate of the snakes was not known but both species are used in southern Chinese cuisine. Snake is considered a delicacy, often served as a soup, and is believed to improve blood circulation and ward off illness.

Under Hong Kong law, anyone found guilty of smuggling cargo into the city faces imprisonment of up to seven years and a maximum fine of HK$2 million (S$319,000).

The latest bust comes after Hong Kong customs last month seized more than US$1 million worth of endangered seahorses and crocodile meat being smuggled into the city, believed to be for Chinese medicine and eating, respectively.

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