Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Geckos nursery becomes profitable business for gypsies

by Amar Guriro

KARACHI: The worsening economy and the environmental degradation have forced several gypsy tribes of Sindh to leave their ancestral profession and move on to more profitable occupations.

These gypsies have been settled in the outskirts of the city for centuries and have started capturing snakes, lizards, geckos and other reptiles in order to earn their livelihood, thus, posing threats to the wildlife of the province.

A hatching nursery of leopard geckos with around 10,000 reptiles is being run in a small gypsy colony in Safora Goth, Gadap town. Though the gypsies running such nurseries have been living in the area for several years, when this scribe asked about their colony, no one was even aware of their existence.

Finally, we managed to find the place. It couldn’t be called a colony; sandwiched between the cemented walls of bungalows from three sides and opening on to the road, the small settlement seemed more like a zoo with many makeshift huts where dogs, donkeys and cocks were tied to the legs of charpais.

After arguing for over half an hour, Muhammad Juman, 36, agreed to take us inside the ‘zoo’. Every hut in this small congested settlement opened into the other. In the first hut, a donkey tied to a charpai welcomed us.

The nursery was a large straw roofed hut located in a corner of the settlement where wooden boxes covered with an iron net were kept. The legs of the boxes were resting in earthen bowls filled with water so that ants could not climb into the box.

Juman’s six-year-old son proudly opened the lid of a box to show us the reptiles. The boxes were filled with sand, cloth or dry grass and when most of the boxes were opened, small reptiles started crawling out.

The reptiles were geckos, scientifically known as the Eubleparis macularius and locally known as Hann Khann in Sindh and Cheeta Chhupkali in Urdu. They are also called leopard geckos as the color and designs on their body resembles that of a leopard.

Umer Jogi, the tribe chief said that his tribe had once been experts in snake charming. “We carried snakes in the cities where we played Murli or ben (a traditional musical instrument made of pumpkin mostly used by Jogis). The snakes danced on our music and that is how we earned or livelihood but after the economic crisis, people didn’t pay much to see our show and we couldn’t capture many snakes as the environmental degradation lessened their number. So most of the community members switched to this new profession of capturing these reptiles,” he said.

Juman said that though geckos are very poisonous, his community members are trained to catch them. He said that they sell these geckos to a contractor who then sells them to a laboratory in Islamabad where anti-snake venom (ASV) is manufactured. He revealed that they sell one gecko for Rs 50 that is later sold to the laboratory for Rs 80. In the nursery, Juman feeds small insects to these geckos and a female gecko lays two eggs each fortnight; the hatchling can reach normal size in four months. Answering a question, Juman said that keeping such dangerous reptiles at home is a big challenge but as he has nothing else to do and is an expert on reptiles he can’t switch to another profession. (Daily Times)

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