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Gecko hunters go north for lizards

Gecko hunters go north for lizards

S IEM REAP - Lizard traders from Takeo smuggled ten cane basketsful of more than

2,000 big geckos on a fast boat from this province to Vietnam earlier this

month.

The Post witnessed the haul and spoke to the traders, who

confirmed they are now hunting further and further afield because the reptiles

are becoming more scarce and difficult to find.

One anonymous trader said

they had caught almost all the lizards in nearby provinces, including Takeo, and

had now been traveling to remote parts of Cambodia to hunt the

reptiles.

"Only Preah Vihear, Rattanakiri, Mondolkiri, Siem Reap and a

few other remote provinces still have not been hunted," he said.

On his

fourth trip to Siem Reap, the farmer-turned-gecko trader said they were taking

the animals to middlemen in their home province who would re-sell them to

Vietnam, where the geckos are used to make medicinal wine for curing asthma and

other diseases.

In only four or five days, he said, the local men and

boys in Siem Reap hunted more than 1,000 geckos and sold them for 500 riels

each. In the neighboring province of Kompong Thom, Reasmei Kampuchea reported

that people had been "surprisingly" selling geckos to traders who took them to

Phnom Penh, or Vietnam.

A Siem Reap resident revealed that during the

Khmer Rouge regime people were told to catch the geckos to be exchanged for

"sewing machines" from China.

Apparently, the gecko trade is more easily

"smoothed over" with payments to officials - unlike "officially forbidden" trade

in some other animal species such as snakes or tortoises.

The Takeo

traders said they had just paid up to 40,000 riels to some "strict checkpoints"

so they would be able to transport the lizards easily.

At Kompong Luang

port in Pursat, they paid 30,000 riels to fishery police.

In addition to

asthma healing, gecko wine is traditionally used to improve "muscles and

concentration" and used by soldiers to help them concentrate better on fighting

and not think about their families at home, herbalists told the Post.

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