Saturday, September 17, 2011
Giant snails and the traditional African religion Ifa Orisha
The invasion of an army of Giant African Snails in a southwest Miami subdivision has federal and state agricultural officials launching a time-consuming and expensive counter-attack to remove the large slimy creatures. The snails, of the species Achatina fulica, can grow up to 10 inches long and 4 inches wide and are considered one of the most damaging land snails in the world. They eat at least 500 different types of plants, lay about 1,200 eggs a year, and can carry a strain of meningitis. Prolific breeders, they contain both female and male reproductive organs and live as long as nine years. They can be particularly devastating to agricultural areas and ecosystems and have led to the imposition of trade bans. Hailing from Eastern Africa, the snails are only allowed into the United States with special permits and for scientific research. Authorities are trying to determine if the outbreak of snails is tied to a smuggling case recently uncovered. In 2010, federal officials opened a criminal investigation into Hialeah resident Charles L. Stewart, who was accused of smuggling the creatures into the United States. Stewart practiced the traditional African religion Ifa Orisha, and authorities said that he persuaded his followers to drink the snails’ juices as part of a healing ritual. Several practitioners became violently ill. Stewart was aided by a woman claiming to be an African priestess who hid snails under her dresses on flights to Miami, according to search warrants filed in the case, which remains open.