King Cobras Smuggled in Potato Chip Cans

(Image from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A Los Angeles area man was sentenced this week to five months in federal prison for smuggling three king cobras into the United States in potato chip canisters.

Rodrigo Franco, 35, of Monterey Park, also was fined $4,500 and must serve two years of supervised release after he does his time.

Franco, who was sentenced Monday, pleaded guilty to animal smuggling in September last year. He admitted he was responsible for three illegal shipments of king cobras that contained 23 snakes.

Baby king cobras were advertised for $500 apiece Wednesday morning on the website Underground Reptiles.

A cobra bite can kill an adult human in half an hour. They are legally protected because they are at risk of extinction. The world’s largest venomous snake, they can grow to more than 12 feet. The ones seized from Franco were about 2 feet long, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement. Also seized were three albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles.

Raised by the millions in China for soup, soft-shelled turtles are the world’s most economically important turtles. Albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles were advertised this morning on website The Turtle Source for $295 to $1,995 apiece.

Animal smuggling is believed one of the most lucrative types of smuggling in the world, after drugs, humans and technology.

Federal officials seized the package of cobras but made a “controlled delivery” of the turtles to Franco’s home. In a subsequent interview, he admitted he had received 20 king cobras in two previous shipments, but said all had died in transit, the U.S. attorney said.

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