Georgia wildlife officials bust venomous snake trafficking operation

Two of the snakes recovered in an investigation by Georgia and Florida wildlife officials into an illegal venomous snake trafficking operation. (Courtesy of Georgia DNR)

Authorities in Georgia and Florida busted an illegal venomous snake operation this month, following an undercover investigation that involved the sale of around 200 cobras, vipers and others.

Law enforcement officials with both states’ wildlife agencies have been investigating the black-market trade of the animals since 2021, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

“These are some of the most lethal snakes in the world,” said Major Bob Holley, who oversees special operations in the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ law enforcement division. “If these snakes were to get loose or someone was to handle one who was improperly trained, these snakes are lethal.”

According to Holley, there isn’t antivenom for all the snakes that were handled available in Georgia. And he said if one of the snakes escaped it could also harm local wildlife.

Seven of the alleged wildlife traffickers were arrested in Florida. Georgia officials arrested an 8th person at the same time. Holley said the Georgia suspect had 27 venomous snakes in his vehicle when he was stopped and arrested while driving down I-75 in Monroe County.

Holley said undercover work like this is a regular part of what his agency does.

“I’ll be honest with you— we buy a lot of snakes,” he said.

Holley said a Georgia facility that’s licensed to handle venomous snakes will keep them until after any court proceedings. Then the snakes can be placed with zoos, aquariums and other places that are set up and licensed to safely keep them.