Developing

Snakes On The Train! Dozens Flee Rail Terror

Hundreds of rail passengers fled in terror when dozens of deadly snakes were found on a train travelling from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi in Vietnam.

A guard and conductor were checking tickets as passengers got on in the central city of Quang Ngai on Thursday evening - and spotted the live king cobras and cobras under a seat.

People fled the carriage as panic broke out, and the smuggler was able to escape in the chaos.

The reptiles - which are extremely venomous and can kill a human within just 30 minutes - were being carried in four see-through cloth bags.

One passenger, Pham Van An, 20, said: "Some of the snakes were very big, and looked terrifying. Most people ran away. But some people went to look at them and the cobras rose up.

"Then police took the snakes off the train."

Officers handed the snakes over to Quang Ngai province's wildlife protection officers for release into the wild.

Nguyen Van Han, chief of the Quang Ngai Forest Protection Department, was unable to say how many snakes were in the bags, but said they weighed a total of 45kg (99lb).

Authorities believe the endangered creatures - which are protected under Vietnamese law - were to be sold to restaurants in Hanoi.

Earlier this month, Gordon Ramsay was labelled "offensive" by animal welfare groups after eating the still-beating heart of a cobra on television.

The TV cook was filmed watching the 6ft-long creature being sliced open at his table in a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City for his new series.

Snake meat is a delicacy in Vietnam , and has long been associated with virility and enhanced male sexual performance. A large king cobra can sell in restaurants for around £310.

Traditionally, customers choose the snake they want and then see it killed in front of them. The meal usually starts with a drink made from the snake's blood.

Conservationists say the illegal hunting and trafficking of wildlife for meat is a huge problem in Vietnam as well as in neighbouring China, Laos and Cambodia.

A recent investigation by the Wildlife Conservation Society found 84% of restaurants in one Vietnamese city alone - Da Lat - were illegally selling wild animals.

And a survey carried out by the charity Wildlife At Risk discovered that more than half the people in Ho Chi Minh City had eaten or used wild animal products.

It said snake, porcupine, bear, civet, weasel, fresh water turtle, and monitor lizard were among the most widely consumed wild meats.

In recent years, Vietnam has made a number of large wildlife seizures, but relatively few smugglers have been convicted, and almost none have received the maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment.