In one of our recent posts regarding the troubled Pakistani snake-venom industry, we opined that government price controls were making the black market too appealing for Sindh Province’s snake charmers. As it turns out, a similar scenario is playing out far to the south, where India’s snake-catching Irula tribe is suspected of selling venom off the books.
For the uninitiated, the Irulas are tribals whose traditional job has been killing and skinning snakes. When this practice was outlawed in 1972, the Indian government decided to make the Irulas the nation’s official snake catchers, for the purpose of supplying the antivenin industry. (Plenty more background here.)
Alas, the government hasn’t always been efficient at gauging how much venom the Irulas need to sell to achieve economic contentment. And so when demand has been set artificially too low, the Irulas have allegedly given in to temptation to sell poison privately:
Every year, by November the society used to sell lyophilized venom powder to the tune of Rs. 90 lakh. But, this year due to delay in the issuance of orders from the wildlife authorities, the society had sold venom only to the tune of Rs. 25 lakh so far, Mr. Rajendran pointed out.
A gram of the rarest venom apparently goes for a princely $1,650 per gram, so there’s not much incentive for the Irulas to cut production merely to satisfy government orders. Such is one of the great downsides of monopolism, we reckon.