Scorpions are in high demand for researchers from the US and EU for the venom they possess, which can be used as an ingredient to develop compounds for anti-cancer medicines. In China, they are a eaten as a street-food snack.
The demand has created a lucrative industry in Pakistan. There, scorpion hunters one-up each other to get their critters sent abroad at lucrative rates: Al Jazeera English reports that a black scorpion weighing 60 grams can bring in $50,000 or more. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2007 that scorpion venom was going for roughly $39 million a gallon. In California, scorpion smugglers have been detained at Los Angeles International Airport, described by authorities as a hub of exotic animal trafficking.
Tracing back the scorpion supply chain brought Al Jazeera reporter Maham Javaid to a remote area of Pakistan’s Sindh region, where he describes a complex trade that begins with the scorpion broker, passes through a middleman who negotiates prices for certain parts of the creature and then ends with a purchaser named Naveed Gauri Khan, who told Al Jazeera he was buying the scorpions for a Swedish pharmaceutical firm.
The trade is technically legal in Pakistan—though the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province banned it in August—but the country’s Dawn newspaper reports that it could have irreparable effects on the environment.
The mass hunting of scorpions, which are consumed by gecko lizards and then snakes on the animal food chain, could throw off nature’s balance, and lead to the increase of other species that are harmful to the environment.