Lizards help Ninh Thuan farmers make easy money

May 20, 2009

Nguyen Van Kep of Ninh Thuan Province says he does not have to buy any feed to raise dong (butterfly lizards) that he sells to make more than VND1 million (US$56) a month.

The breeding of dong , which has the scientific name of Leiolepis belliana, has gained in popularity among farmers in the south central province’s coastal district of Ninh Phuoc in recent years.

Dong are a burrowing lizard native to Southeast Asian countries that prefer to live in arid and open terrains.

Many restaurants in Vietnam serve dishes made from dong meat, which is considered a delicacy. It was originally a dish favored by people in coastal areas where the reptiles are common in the wild.

Kep was among the first dong farmers in the province who began their business at Hoa Thuy Village in Ninh Phuoc District’s Phuoc Hai Commune some four years ago.

“A dealer said he would buy dong at VND100,000 per kilogram in 2005,” he said. “The villagers then rushed to hunt the wild animals.”

The increased hunting and purchases led to a supply shortage and “I thought about breeding them.”

He constructed a farm on an area of 300 square meters, creating a miniature habitat.

Surrounded by 1.5-meter wall, the farm was paved with cement and filled up with a meter of sand, which was then covered with grass and trees.

The survival rate of the wild reptiles on the farm is up to 95 percent, while they reproduce regularly and have no diseases, Kep said, adding that the animals eat simple food like vegetables, bean-sprouts, beans and fruit.

“It’s easy money. I can earn more than VND1 million per month from selling dong.”

Kep says he is working to expand the farm to a two-hectare area which he has fenced and planted trees and grass.

It is a good model which brings high profits because farmers will not have to buy feed or take care of the lizards, he says.

Growing business

Pham Trung Nho is one of the neighbors who has learned the technique of breeding dong from Kep.

He has invested VND100 million ($5,624) in constructing a 500 sq.m breeding area on a coastal dune to raise more than 50,000 lizards.

“They are productive animals which give birth to between six and eight eggs per brood,” he said. “The eggs hatch within a month and the newborns will get mature and reproduce in a few months.”

Dong are sold for meat at between VND200,000 and VND240,000 per kilogram and Nho is able to earn more than VND100 million a year from this business.

He also supplies the lizards to other farmers for breeding.

“I have sold five tons of young dong to farmers from Ho Chi Minh City and Khanh Hoa Province since early this year. There are so many people wanting to buy, but I cannot satisfy the demand.”

Nho says the minimum area for breeding the butterfly lizard is 200 sq.m, ideally distant from residential areas so the reptiles are not caught by cats and rats; and water must be sprayed regularly to create humidity around the area on sunny days.

Huynh Huy Thai, secretary of the Youth Union unit of Phuoc Hai Commune says the breeding of these lizards is good work even for elders and women because it doesn’t require strenuous physical activity.

“However, it is thus far a spontaneous development and concerned agencies should conduct research to develop the business sustainably in the central coastal region,” he said, adding that many farmers in other central provinces have also raised dong and gained good profits.

Reported by Thien Nhan

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