Python skins are valued as shoe and bag material. (Photo: sandid/CC0)

In Hainan, an island province of China, off the country’s south coast, customs authorities last week found files of python skins, illegally imported into the country. These thousands of skins were estimated to be worth $48 million.

To get a sense of the scale of this operation, consider that even smaller species of pythons can grow to five feet long and the largest can reach 15 feet or more. When authorities rolled out the skins, many were as long as a person, and more than a foot in diameter.

The company that was smuggling these skins from Vietnam actually did have a license to import python skins. But those imports were meant to make traditional Chinese musical instruments, and the company was bringing in many, many more skins than was allowed.

It’s not that there’s so much demand for traditional drums: there’s a booming market for python skin shoes and handbags elsewhere in the world. It’s likely that’s where these skins were headed—onto someone’s feet.

Bonus finds: An even less successful snake-smuggling operation

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