Villagers in a remote part of Thailand have defied the Covid-19 economic downturn by selling dried geckos to China – where it is believed the snacks boost the immune system.
Hundreds of families in ‘Ban Tan’ in Nakhon Phanom province have earned more than 100 million baht (3.25 million USD) by catching the reptiles.
Demand for the creatures has soared amid claims that they boost the immune system which could help protect against Covid-19.
Footage from the village on Monday (March 17) shows residents preparing the geckos before they are driven in trucks across the border.
They said that during the summer season, when the tokay geckos usually nest inside homes to escape the hot weather, families lure them out and hunt the creatures.
The catchers say they only take the those near their homes and village as wild geckos in forests are protected animals.
The live reptiles are then be cleaned and dried under the sun or smoked for at least a day before they are exported to neighbouring China and Vietnam.
The salty treats are used as snacks or ingredient to make herbal medicines that some Chinese people believe can treat a variety of diseases such as fatigue after pregnancy. The dried creatures are often boiled and drank as tea.
While some traditional Chinese doctors burn the dried creatures to ashes to use as ingredients in pills.
Noppamas Wongsanow, 38, one of the villagers involved in the trade, said wealthy Chinese businessman arrived at their village about 30 years ago to ask about worms.
He said: ‘I was still young at that time. My parents were some of the first people to work with the Chinese man. Now, almost every family earns their money by doing this.
‘It expanded after the demand increased. One family could make 50,000 to 100,000 Baht a month. We do it all year round. When the summer ends and the raining season begins, they will catch earthworms and leeches instead.’
Noppamas added that around 22 households in the village are now involved in the business. The trade had been passed on through different generations.
Noppamas said the original Chinese businessman initially ordered earthworms and leeches, then later asked for dried geckos.
He said the villagers are able to earn up to 100,000 Baht (3,330 USD) per month selling their catch. The average wage for the area is 12,000 Baht (400USD).
The entire village can earn up to 100 million Baht per year exporting the goods, with geckos costing up to 500 Baht (17 USD) per kilo while leeches can sell up to 2,000 Baht (67 USD) per kilo.
Noppamas said that villagers wake up at 3 a.m. to hunt the creatures so they can dry them up in the afternoon when the sun is up.
Each creature is seasonally sold – geckos are sold during the dry season, leeches during the rainy season, and earthworms are during the winter.
Tokay geckos are the second largest in gecko families. They are widely found in Thai households.