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Posted by Wes von Papinešu on January 23, 2001 at 09:19:41:
SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST (Hong Kong) 23 January 01 Flourishing trade in snake meat leaves rats free to rampage (Michael Mathes)
Hanoi: The Year of the Snake is looming, but in Vietnam it may as well be the year of the rat.
The rodents are on the rampage because of the dwindling number of wild animals which prey on them - particularly snakes. The soaring rat population is forecast to cause devastating damage to crops and grain stores.
This is mainly because of Vietnam's predilection for snake meat.
The area estimated to have been ravaged by rats has nearly tripled, from 262,000 hectares in 1996 to more than 700,000 hectares in 1999, the Vietnam Investment Review reported. Business in the country's thousands of snake restaurants or trading posts, mainly in the north, is booming.
Profits are rising because the per-kilogram cost of wild snakes, such as copperheads, has tripled in recent years, further encouraging hunting.
The paper said the problem had become so serious that Hanoi was considering banning the flourishing snake-meat trade altogether.
Dwindling numbers of cats and birds of prey also have led to the increase.
This has prompted the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to ban the hunting or trading of 19 reptile, bird and carnivore species that prey on rats.
The move has helped to strengthen Decree 359 from 1997, which banned the traffic, trade and slaughter of wild animals, including snakes.
But with poor enforcement, the decree had little effect on places like Le Mat, the snake village across the Red River from Hanoi. Seventy per cent of Le Mat's 1,000 households are engaged in the snake trade.
They easily bypass restrictions by arguing that their snakes are bred at home.
Officials say that most of the creatures are captured in the wild, fed at home and then sold to restaurants. Each year, thousands of snakes are also smuggled from Vietnam into China to be used in the huge business of traditional medicine.
Vietnam is home to about 140 snake species, 32 of which are poisonous.
About 30,000 people are bitten by snakes every year in Vietnam, many of them fatally, according to official media reports.