Thai police seize 600 smuggled cobras from a truck

The cobras were smuggled through the southern border of the country

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At least 600 smuggled cobras discovered in the back of a truck have been seized by police in Thailand, officials say.

They said the driver of the truck had been arrested and confessed that he was taking the deadly snakes, which probably came from Malaysia, for shipment to neighbouring Laos.

Correspondents say Thailand is a major transit hub in the international black market in animal smuggling.

Last month, Thai police rescued 16 tiger cubs also destined for Laos.

Nearby China is a huge market with its long history of traditional medicine based on the use of animal parts for ingredients. Many exports also go to Vietnam.

Customs officials estimate that the seized snakes - some of which died while stored in mesh bags inside plastic baskets - were worth about 500,000 baht ($16,500: £10,400).

Police arrested the driver about 210km (130 miles) south of Bangkok.

Border security officials told the AP news agency that they had been tracking the vehicle for a year and were expecting it, and put it through a mobile x-ray machine to confirm the illegal cargo.

They said the plan was for the consignment of snakes to be split into four in the north-eastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima and then shipped out of Thailand.

The snakes that survived would be released into the wild, officials said.

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