A Los Angeles man has been arrested after federal prosecutors claimed he arranged the smuggling of three live, highly venomous king cobra snakes hidden in potato chip canisters into the United States.
Rodrigo Franco, 34, was taken into custody and charged Tuesday (Wednesday NZ time) with illegally importing merchandise into the country in connection with a parcel from Hong Kong that was intercepted by US Customs and Border Protection agents on March 2, containing the 61cm-long snakes concealed inside the canisters.
Three albino Chinese soft-shelled turtles were also found in the package, prosecutors said, adding that Franco on that same day mailed a box to Hong Kong with six protected turtles inside.
According to a criminal complaint filed in the case, Franco admitted during an interview with authorities that he had previously received a total of 20 king cobras in two prior shipments but that all of those snakes had died in transit.
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He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison if convicted, although federal sentencing guidelines typically call for less time behind bars.
According to the National Geographic website, the king cobra, also known as Ophiophagus hannah, is the longest venomous snake, reaching up to 5.5 metres in length.
When confronted, king cobras can raise up to one-third of their bodies off the ground, flare out their hoods and emit a “bone-chilling” hiss before attacking.