You certainy have heard of alcohol with a worm at the bottom of the bottle called Mezcal and produced in Oaxaca, Mexico.
What we are going to talk about here is a lot better than just a worm in a bottle, because this alcoholic beverage called Snake wine is a liquor with a snake in the bottle !
The practice of producing an alcoholic beverage that includes a whole venomous snake in the bottle originated in Vietnam and as popular in Southeast Asia as among American and European of Asian origin. The entire snake is submerged in the alcohol, often with insects, herbs, or other animals, and the snakes, preferably venomous, are not usually preserved for their meat, but to have the snake poison dissolved in the liquor, which is then used for medicinal purposes.
Having been questioned about Snake wine United States Customs and Border Protection officers agreed that snakes mixed in a glass container containing some form of alcohol (rice wine) and made in South-East Asian countries as Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos, are not a problem to import to US in small quantity. And Jose Castellano, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to add that a maximum of 2 bottles is acceptable when ordering bottles of Snake wine.
Customs officials check mail, boats and planes to make sure that anything that can be harmful or illegal does not enter the United States, and based on a risk management system, they decide what packages to look at, depending on where they are from and other characteristics, and Snake wine is not something they usually need to investigate further, as it is just rice alcohol mixed with unprotected snakes.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service previously had chances to check what they call an unusual cocktail, some Snake wine bottles, and didn’t find anything to complain about, because the Snakes are not endangered species on the CITES list (convention on international trade in endangered species) which applies to live and dead animals.
The snake which look like “Cobra” in Snake wine in fact is “rat snake” (Coelognathus) that has its neck flattened back to look like a cobra. You can tell this from the shape of the head, the two lines on the side of the head, and the lack of markings on the “hood”. Furthermore, the “Trimeresurus gramineus” is in fact Ahaetulla (green vine snakes), so all snakes found in Snake wine come from farm.
If they were Trimeresurus gramineus (which they are not) then the process would be illegal anyway as they only occur in southern India, and India prohibits the export of wildlife
Some of the animals that are forbidden to export to US or Europe are animals as turtles, sea horses, and other wildlife animals, but not the snakes in the Snake wine.
In case an endanger specie animal would be found, customs usually just seize the parcel, and do not investigate further the recipient, because they are only looking for high volume wildlife contraband, so usually no action is taken when someone is only carrying one or two animals or when they find a parcel with the same content.
Importation of endangered species into the United States requires a permit and proper procedures have to be followed, and first an export permit from the country of origin is needed, but not for Snake wine or any other weird cocktail not containing any endanger specie.