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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cat eyed snake sent by Courier to Slovakia - subject matter of Marine Insurance

There is a group of vagabond community called ‘narikuravas’ in Tamilnadu.  In Tamil Nari means fox/jackal and kuravas are hill tribes.  Geographically the hilly lands were known as ‘kurinji’ in tamil literature.   These people sell lot of products obtained from hill including honey.  Once a ‘narikurava’ sold a ‘fox horn’ to an unsuspecting mechanic, who bought it for a few hundred rupees believing that it would bring him good luck.  Which genus of fox has a horn !!!

Marine is ‘sea or naval’ adventure and Marine insurance is insurance of goods in transit or of coverage to the conveyance that carries the goods.  The vast and varied nature of the subject matter in marine insurance is so mind-boggling and can include animals.  In land, there are animals like – mules, bullocks, horses, elephants, donkeys and more which can be carriers i.e., the mode of transportation.  Sometimes, the animals themselves can be the subject matter of transportation and hence the subject matter for insurance also.  For Marine insurance coverage, some of the essential ingredients are : transit, subject matter, mode of transport, insurable interest, sale contract, contract of affreightment etc., - one of most essential ingredient can be read on the concluding paragraph. 

The latin word ‘animalis’ means ‘those having breath’ – colloquially animals refer to all those beastly and ordinary beings  including tiny insects, vertebrates, birds, fishes and others in sea  and more but excluding humans – simply because the words were coined by men.  The members of the kingdom Animalia live better in their natural environ – in wild.  But humans have since long domesticated some and habituated them to work for their benefit.  The pets are household animals kept  for companionship and a person's enjoyment.  There are some which are kept and bred for economic reasons.  Pets generally are those which are playful, loyal and display traits that please mankind.   Humans would justify chaining them by saying that they  relieve stress and bring cheers.   The most popular pets are dogs and cats, but there are also rodent pets, such fancy rats, rabbits, and guinea pigs;  avian pets, such as pigeons, lovebirds, parrots,parakeets and a host of others.

Animals are moved from one place to another for various reasons – pets are moved; so also are commercial animals like cattle, horses, mules. Many animals are moved for zoos, circus, entertainment and for showcasing them at other parts of the World and then there is the dreaded illegal trade in wild life – a global industry which challenges the wildlife conservation in a very big way.  Lions, tigers, rhinos, hippos, elephants, monkeys, wolfs, armadillos – anything large enough to be eaten or lucrative enough to be sold are hunted on massive scale for their meat, skin, fur, feathers or traded illegally.  Many animals are driven to extinction by these dreaded mafia who ruthless kill animals for lure of money.

This criminal industry has spread its tentacles wide internationally, infact dwarfed only by the drugs and arms trades.  In the same league, most of the money so earned perhaps funds terrorist and militia groups leading to indiscriminate snaring and slaughtering of animals.  There exist International treaties, Police Units, Campaign groups and NGOs all battling to save the animals from being poached but little is the control they have against the dreaded fearsome criminals.   The world's tiger population has plummeted from what it was at the start of the 20th century; tens of thousands of elephants are killed every year for their ivory.  Elephants have big tusks which lure the traders – the rhinos have smaller horns and they also lure the traders !!  the situation in sea is not far different than the lawlessness at land -  sea turtles are being harvested at an astonishing rate; finally it takes toll of mankind also as rangers and sometimes law enforcement officials are also killed.  Some ill conceived notions also add to the killing and trade.  There are beliefs that rhino horns cure cancer, that if you drink out of a rhino horn cup you get eternal happiness, and that some of these wild animals raise men's potency.  Though there is no scientific research oriented back, many of the animals are believed to have aphrodisiac values.

If you think that only big organized groups operate in this trade, then you are not aware of the reality.  There are small time crooks who try capturing, transporting and trading them and they do indulge in moving them by concealing inside their body, hats, dresses or in suitcases.   It is also stated to be a booming multifaceted business catering to huge demand among collectors for exotic species.   The trade flourishes as the  profits are vast.

Beautifully coloured birds found in the Amazon basin and South-east Asia frequently command the highest prices.   Rhino horns, tusks of elephants, tiger skins, Tibetan antelope hair, oil of sharks etc., command high prices as well.  Even eggs of exotic birds are not left out.  Many reptiles and amphibians are regularly taken clandestinely in suitcases and in many masked ways in aeroplanes and other transports transgressing National borders and evading the Customs and other law enforcement agencies.  

Don’t ever assume that these occur only in African countries like Somalia, Congo, Kenya or Latin America or Malaysia – incidents come to public notice only when a stray criminal is caught, otherwise this trade is sans borders sans race.   While the black-market profits are enormous, the complexity of the smuggling chain is long and involves numerous intermediaries.   From the poachers, to transporters locally, to agents, to intermediaries and international buyers the chain in indeed very long and strong at many points. Sadly, a very high % of animals / birds trapped might die en route, there could be equal or a larger no.  maimed or severely traumatised by the experience.  For drug traffickers it is capital punishment in many countries, but there are no such harsh deterrents for those involved in animal trade.  

With the result, the effect on the countries from which wildlife is taken is devastating.   You can read frequently about jelly fish, star turtles, parrots and exotic birds, monkeys etc., seized by Customs of various countries, when people tried stealthily transporting them.  

Of the many reported instances, a man was arrested at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International airport attempting to get 50 snakes on plane by concealing them in sock.  Quite surprisingly, a tiger cub was once found concealed along with stuffed tiger toys inside the suitcase of a Thai woman. A marmoset monkey was found inside the cap of an air passenger.  Recently, [in May 2011] a  first-class passenger was arrested at a Thai airport after being found carrying suitcases filled with baby leopards, panthers, a bear and monkeys. The animals had been drugged and were headed for Dubai.

Not to be left behind, India also has its presence in the  market -  and as if to prove the same, today there is a newsitem in TOI titled “ Cat-Eyed Snake  for Slovakia ” – a rather strange attempt – somebody tried to transport the snake through Courier to Slovakia.   

Times of India reports that Forest department officials on 27th July 11 rescued a one-and-a half-foot cat-eyed snake from an unusual location a private courier firm in Nungambakkam from where it was to be sent to Slovakia. An employee of the firm scanning parcels before sending them to the airport noticed something suspicious inside one and informed his seniors. They alerted the police who opened the parcel and found a rectangular cover wrapped in a cloth in the outer envelope.  Then came a hissing sound and they suspected it was a snake. Forest officials were informed and a team led by ranger rushed to the office.  Upon opening the parcel carefully, a video cassette was found covered by a cloth.  Inside was a  snake put in a sock. It was found to be a brown common cat-eyed snake with hexagonal and square-shaped scales all over the body.  It is stated  that Cat-eyed snakes are found in India and Australia.

Cat-eyed snakes are reported to  have vertically elliptical pupils like those of cats, which they can open and contract to suit light conditions.  They are slender, light brown to grayish with darkerblotches down the middle of the back interspersed with smaller, dark blotches along their sides.  They live on the leaves of Palmyra trees, under the stones and bushes.  They are arboreal snakes as they are tree climbers.They eat lizards,mice,frogs and small birds ; they reportedly are not very poisonous.

A very queer attempt of smuggling – the parcel reportedly was booked in Trichy and destined for Slovakia.  The address of the sender turned out to be fake.  There have been attempts to transit by air - Turtles, ornamental fish, star tortoise,tiger skins and other precious animals  but  snake in a parcel is perhaps a pioneering attempt.  There have been instances of snakes being stolen – even from the famous snake park in Adyar which houses quite a large no. of reptiles.  

All goods that are moved from one place to another – part of marine adventure can be subject matter of insurance and can be insured.  Sec 5 of the Marine Insurance Act 1963 categorically adds   subject to the provisions of the Act, every lawful marine adventure may be the subject of a contract of marine insurance

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.


  1. There are small-time baddies who try acquiring, going and trading them and they do take pleasure in in going them by covering inside their body, less difficult, outfits or in bags.


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