The Nightcrawlers: Snake Hunters of Lam Dong

Daily News - Da Lat: yesterday

Snakes are abundant in Vietnam, especially during the rainy season that lasts from July to October — also known as ‘snake season’. As the number of snakes hits its peak during this period, it’s also considered the busiest part of the hunting season — where several species of poisonous snakes are hunted and sold for profit in Vietnamese cities.

Snake Hunting in Vietnam

The more venomous the snake is, the more expensive it is. This is what motivates snake hunters from the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, who wade across streams at night, risking their lives to land their catch in a strip of nationally protected forest for over a decade.

As reported by Tuoi Tre, most of these men come from the Chau Ma and S’tieng ethnic minority groups and they routinely travel kilometres from their homes to a protected part of Cat Tien National Park.

snake hunterImage source: baomoi.com

Using only simple and modified tools and even their bare hands, these hunters wander into the darkness and return with sacks of grass snakes, colubrid snakes, sunbeam snakes, pythons and venomous dendrophis, monocled cobras and king cobras.

Risks

The men undergo plenty of risks from snake bites, especially from cobras, which have enough venom to kill an adult with just one bite. “Boas of 10 kg or above can easily wind their long body around a human adult and crush them to death. Those who are lucky to survive will still suffer critical injuries, mostly bone fractures,” noted K’Hoang, one of the group members.

Wading through streams can also have its risks, as floodwaters can surge without warning and sweep the men away.

snake hunterImage source: nguoiduatin.vn

Improvised Devices

Catching snakes is usually done with a trap, which is also the safest method. Each hunter owns about a dozen traps, each worth about VND20,000, to catch snakes. The trick is to know where to look, and this knowledge can only be gained through experience.

Other devices include home-made clamps, sacks, nets, torches and bush hooks.

snake hunter
Image source: nguoiduatin.vn

They are also armed with home-made alcohol guns. These devices look similar to a rifle, but the two cartridge holders are in the butt, which contains alcohol gas. The charge is triggered with an electric spark and the bullets are ball-bearings from a bike. Although widely used, the use of these improvised guns has been banned.

The Demand

The snakes are usually sold to restaurant owners as food or fermented in alcohol as an ornament. Snakes are claimed to possess medicinal properties that can cure cancer, which have yet to be proven by science. This, however, hasn’t stopped the demand.

snake hunterImage source: trendd.in

The hunter’s communities traditionally rely on foraging vegetables from the forests, a job typically done by women, however the earnings are not enough to provide for the family.

The snakes and other protected animals are sold, with the high profits split between the group; the low-value animals are killed for food.

The prices of snakes are measured by kilograms and depending on the species, can range anywhere from VND400,000 (US$18) to VND1.2 million (US$52) per kilogram.

An Illegal Trade

According to Lam Dong Forest Ranger Department, in addition to Cat Tien National Park, poachers also hunt in neighbouring districts of Da Teh and Da Huoai.

Nguyen Khang Thien, head of the provincial Forest Ranging Department has also said that rangers have already busted eight wildlife trading cases and seized 32 snakes, including boas, in the first six months of this year.

snake hunterImage source: congly.vn

Poachers face a fine of between VND500,000 (US$22) and VND400 million (US$17,492), depending on the number and species of snakes they catch.

Banner image source: dreamingofsnakes.net

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