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Hunting poisonous snakes for a living in Ho Chi Minh City

Sunday, July 19, 2015, 11:13 GMT+7
Hunting poisonous snakes for a living in Ho Chi Minh City
Vo Van Dung, 51, in Tan Phu Trung Commune, Cu Chi, is seen catching a snake.

Hunting wild cobras and other species of poisonous snakes is a job generating lavish income in big cities in Vietnam.

>> An audio version of the story is available here

The more poisonous the snake is, the more expensive it is.

Hunters stick to the job to earn good income despite the lethal hazards from snakebites.

The reptiles are sold for meat and for pickling in alcohol, which is believed to have medicinal properties.

Tracking cobras

Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper journalists recently followed snake hunters in rural areas of Ho Chi Minh City to have an understanding of their job.

Nguyen Van Loi, a resident of Binh My Commune in Cu Chi District, has hunted wild snakes for over a decade to earn his living.

He was then preparing snake traps along the corridor of his simple house by the banks of the Saigon River.

The trap looks like a cylindrical tube, with a length of a meter and width of 15 centimeters.

The two ends of the tube are attached to two entrance doors for the snake to enter and catch the bait, often a toad or a mouse left inside. The funnel-shaped doors permit the snake to get in but not to get out.

Loi said the snakes are in their reproductive season during the rainy season, from the sixth month to the ninth month of the lunar calendar. This is the time when snakes eagerly go out hunting for food.

Catching snakes with a trap is the safest method. Some hunters choose to catch the reptiles by just digging holes or using electrical wires to electrocute them.

“I have 12 years’ experience in earning money by catching snakes,” Loi said, adding that snakes are becoming rarer thanks to the appearance of buildings and industrial facilities.

He said a hunter just needs to own a few dozen traps, each worth VND20,000, or less than one U.S. dollar, to be able to catch snakes.

But the most important factor is experience, as a hunter must know where snakes frequent and their moving paths.

Snakes prefer dry places with shrubs, he said. They often become aggressive when they are first caught after entering a trap to catch prey and fail to get out.

The trap must be strong because snakes are powerful and they can tear a small hole to escape, he added.

“And you need luck because you may catch four or five snakes in a day, and then have nothing for a month,” Loi said.

Risking life to earn a living

The volume of poison from just a single bite by a cobra is enough to kill several adults, he said.

A man will become paralyzed or have his blood frozen by the snake’s poison.

Loi is well aware of the risks, but he does the job to support his family, including his wife and two daughters.

Another snake hunter, Vo Van Dung, 51, in Tan Phu Trung Commune, Cu Chi, said he has caught snakes to sell for over 15 years.

He is experienced enough to recognize a poisonous snake by its appearance.

Pointing at a snake caught in his trap, he said, “This is a safe one, no poison. I can catch it with my bare hands.”

Dung said he once had 60 snake straps, but now he has just 20 due to theft.

Many hunters have been hospitalized or died of snakebites. Ho Chi Minh City’s Cho Ray Hospital receives nearly 1,000 cases of poisonous snakebites a year.

Doctor Tran Quang Binh, head of the department of tropical diseases of Cho Ray Hospital, said the cobra poison attacks the nervous system, while that of other species of poisonous snakes causes blood clots.

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