Dang Huu Duyen, chairman of the Soft shell Turtle Farmer Association, owns the biggest soft shell turtle (ba ba gai) in Vietnam, weighing 45 kg. The reptile species is kept domestically to lay eggs in ponds and farms.
| A 20-kg turtle |
“The wattle-neck soft shell turtles are easier to keep and bring up than other kinds of soft shell turtles. They can eat various kinds of food and can adapt better to the living environment,” said Duyen.
After watching people hunt this species for over 20 years, especially during the breeding season, Duyen began to fear that the soft shell turtles may become extinct. In an effort to prevent this from happening, he started to move some sand from the Ma River to his garden and make nests for hatching eggs collected from the river.
After a trial run in which 60 percent of the turtle eggs he collected hatched well, Duyen planned to build pools to keep soft shell turtles in. Now, he owns thousands of soft shell turtles and keeps them in a pond of almost 2,000 square meters.
A ‘ba ba gai’ has gnarled skin on the head and legs showing its old age, and a row of barbs in front of the shell, which is a distinctive feature of wattle-neck soft shell turtles in the Ma River.
The biggest turtle kept in his pond weighs over 45kg, and its shell measures 85 centimeters long and 50 centimeters wide. It was caught in the Ma River 20 years ago when it was 7-8kg.
Each big turtle can offer its owner a profit of approximately VND80 million (USD3,800) a year thanks to its eggs and baby turtles.
Making a fortune
People in Song Ma District have escaped poverty thanks to breeding the giant species of turtle. Pointing to a 200 square meter pond with brick walls around it, Duyen said that he can make as much as VND500 million ($24,000) annually from the pond for the foreseeable future.
Do Dai Thang, chairman of the ward’s farmer association and also a turtle breeder, revealed that a kilogram of breeder turtle costs VND2 million ($96), and a newly hatched turtle sells at VND300,000. Last year merchants from cities and even from China actually came to buy them at VND800,000 each.
Thanks to the favorable climate and good biological genes of soft shell turtles in the Ma River, people come to this mountainous area to buy baby soft shell turtles as breeders.
Thang has built a good house with nice furniture thanks to the profits made from the giant turtles he keeps in his 150 square meter pond.
According to Nguyen Thi Hoa, vice head of the Song Ma District Office of Agriculture, 300 families in Song Ma are raising wattle-neck soft shell turtles, including 10 large-scale farms who make yearly profits of approximately VND2 billion to VND5 billion.
Soft shell turtle farms covering hundreds of thousands of square meters are currently being built by the side of the peaceful Ma River. It seems that this already-profitable trade will boom in the future.