SIALKOT

A number of people in Pakistan have joined the profession of black scorpions’ hunting as the insect is in high demand by medical experts for the treatment of various diseases, it is learnt.

There are more than a thousand online websites dealing in scorpions, as per a research. “The poison of scorpions is used for making drugs for cancer, hepatitis and aids and original buyers belong to America, Canada and Europe,” said a scorpion hunter. “It is also very efficient in aphrodisiac medicines and that is why companies are buying them on such heavy prices.”

He said, “We have worked on scorpions for over a year and am able to provide scorpions from 50 to 1,000 gm. We deliver scorpions in Dubai and South Africa as well.”

Scorpions are ancient living beings and fossil records indicate that they were present 425 - 450 million years ago during the Silurian period and evolved from an amphibious ancestor. They occur in habitats ranging from forest to deserts but it is in the arid areas that they are most common and diverse. Like other insects and spiders, scorpions belong to the phylum Arthropoda and like spiders they belong to Arachnida but belong to a different order, Scorpions. They are a diverse group of Arachnids and include 16 families, 159 genera with 1,260 described species worldwide.

The scorpion hunting started after a 10 year girl namely Violet suffered from Brianstem Giloma, a type of brain cancer. Before her death in 2010, she donated her brain to Dr Jim Olson’s institute in Seattle, who along with other scientists was working on the disease. That gift along with similar donations from other paediatric brain tumour patients became an inspiration behind Project Violet, an innovative research programme developed by Dr Jim Olson and colleagues from multiple disciplines at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre.

Project Violet researchers have already had one big success: Tumour Paint. A “molecular flashlight” derived from the DNA of the Israeli death stalker scorpion, tumour paint chemically adheres to cancer cells and causes them to light up. It is thousands of times more sensitive than MRI imagery as tumour paint enables surgeons to easily distinguish between deadly cancer cells and the surrounding healthy tissue making tumours more operable. After nearly a decade of development, human clinical trials have begun and the possibilities may extend well beyond helping patients like Violet. This is why the demand for scorpions increased throughout the world.

When asked, District Officer Forests Haroon Tufail said that indiscriminate hunting and disturbing bio-diversity is not permitted and pledged to curtail such illegal practices. Scorpions are hunted for medicinal purposes while a policy is needed at the national level to deal with the situation, he said.