|A collection of geckos caught in the wild on sale in An Giang Province.|
Chameleons are making big money for hunters and breeders in the Mekong Delta provinces of Kien Giang and An Giang.
The popular belief that the reptiles promote health and virility has demand soaring at much higher levels than supply, bringing the species to the brink of extinction in the provinces.
âSteep one male and one female gecko and drink the wine men! Your women will have to surrender.
âIf you are trying dried geckos, you should go for a couple as well,â Nam tells visitors to Binh An Commune in Kien Giang.
âChameleon wine will improve that stuff!â the gecko trader winks.
Almost any house on the main streets in the commune sells the lizards, both fresh and dried.
Visitors to the commune, home to the Hang Pagoda and Phu Tu (Father and son) Island, buy living chameleons at VND20,000-40,000 (US$1.12-2.25) each depending on the size.
A local seller named Dung tries to attract customers saying âForest rangers donât come checking today.
âTheyâll seize the geckos if they see me display the animal like this.â
The hunting and trading of the chameleon is banned in Vietnam.
As Thanh Nien watched, all stepping into the shop left with some geckos. Some women even took 10 pairs home for their husbands.
In neighboring An Giang Province, at the Xuan To Market along the Cambodian border, a bottle of gecko wine can be bought for VND300,000- 500,000 ($16.88-28.13) depending on the size.
A local resident, who wished not to be named, said âforest rangers have been strict these days, so sellers hide their goods and only sell to dealers.
âThey will be cautious with strangers.â
The resident also recommended several locals who have quality gecko wine and dried geckos.
As the reptiles are also believed to help cure asthma and pains, restaurants in the provinceâs Tinh Bien District list gecko dishes on their menus.
A bowl of gecko gruel is priced at between VND50,000 and VND80,000 ($2.82-4.50), as is a baked gecko. The two dishes are of such high demand that diners have to reserve them several days in advance.
Hai, a gecko hunter from Kien Giang Province, says geckos are good at disguising themselves but make so much noise that itâs not too difficult to find them.
âWhen I manage to catch one, I have to sew its mouth or it will shout and bring in the forest rangers.â
Hai says there were many geckos in the mountains of Kien Giang and An Giang. But they have been hunted so much that they have become rare now.
âWe hunters now have to go to Cambodia to find more.â
The rarity is good news for Tinh Bien Districtâs Huynh Ngoc Bich who breeds and sells geckos at VND20,000- 30,000 apiece.
Ten years ago, Bich had kept two gecko eggs just for fun. They hatched and he built a cage for them.
In 2002, he invested more than VND200 million ($11,200) to breed thousands of geckos.
Bich is now the main gecko supplier to restaurants in the province and nearby localities while natural geckos die out.
Reported by Thanh Dung