Little lizards make big money for Indonesian villagers

Tue Jan 19, 2010 1:36am EST
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By Heru Asprihanto

JAKARTA (Reuters Life!) - A tiny Indonesian lizard has become big business for impoverished villagers in Indonesia, where growing Asian demand for reptile-based traditional medicines has driven a boom in gecko farming.

Geckos -- the pale, soft-skinned lizard with a distinctive call -- are abundant in Indonesia and are believed by Chinese and Korean traditional medicine devotees to help cure cancer as well as skin and respiratory diseases.

In rural Banjarsawah village, on the eastern half of Java island, struggling farmers have discovered geckos make a surprisingly lucrative commodity.

Tohasyim, 32, a farmhand who earns 10,000 rupiah (about $1) a day feeding other people's cattle, now makes 1 million rupiah or about $110 a month hunting geckos in a local forest.

"I start hunting the geckos in the evening after I finish my job, feeding other people's cattle. I normally start hunting the geckos at 6 in the evening until 5 in the morning," said Tohasyim, who, like many Indonesians, has only one name.

The industry began four years ago when one villager, Abdurrahman, began drying geckos at home and selling them to an exporter.

Now, more than 100 hunters scour the forest nightly catching the skittering lizards and delivering them to Abdurrahman, 40, who delivers them to the exporter.

Most villagers in Banjarsawah are now involved in dried gecko production. Hunters venture into the forest in groups of four or five, wearing battery-powered head lamps and catching the lizards with their gloved hands.   Continued...

<p>Dead geckos as seen before a drying process at Siwalan Tegal village in Probolinggo, Indonesia's East Java province in this December 17, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Sigit Pamungkas</p>