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Snakes Prove a Chinese Charmer as Zisiqiao Village Breeds 3 Million a Year

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by copythat

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In The News

If you think farming is centered around cows, sheep or vegetables, you're in the wrong country: The small Chinese village of Zisiqiao breeds 3 million snakes per year in farming that uses even the reptiles' gallbladders. The snake sales all started as a bit of entrepreneurship, from a man who used to hunt venomous snakes in China's mountains.

Hidden in the heart of vast farmland in China's eastern Zhejiang is a band of 160 farming families -- with an average per farmer of about 187,500 bred of one of the Chinese nation's most valuable commodities. They're breeding some of the world's most deadly and feared animals: snakes. More succinctly, poisonous snakes.

Zisiqiao, a.k.a. "snake village", is home to Cobras, pit vipers and the less-dangerous pythons. The reptiles are raised for routine use as food and in medicines and serve to rake in millions of dollars for a Chinese village that would otherwise be sustained solely by farming.

"As the number one snake village in China, it's impossible for us to raise only one kind of snake," says Yang Hongchang, a 60-year-old farmer and bit of an entrepreneur who introduced snake breeding to the village decades ago.

The Zisiqiao village has its own "snake association" led by Hongchang, the man dubbed the 'Snake King' in the village that said to "dance with snakes".

Over 25 years ago began the snake sales simply -- by selling snakes he'd caught in China's local mountains to animal vendors or for herbal medicines. But with supply and demand the 'Snake King' began to worry that wild snakes would be depleted from the area -- and instead began researching how to breed snakes at home in the Chinese village. In three shorty years he'd made a fortune through snake sales, so other Zisiqiao villagers decided to follow in his footsteps.

Fast-forward a quarter of a century: now more than three million snakes are bred every year in the village -- by just 160 Chinese farming families. Snakes have long been revered for what the culture believes to be strong medicinal properties offered by the reptile. In China, snakes are used in or commonly drunk as soup, or even wine, to boost human immunity.

Now Yang believes he can build a brand around his snake empire -- starting a company to additionally conduct research and development for snake-related products including dried snake, snake wine and snake powder. Says Yang: "Our original [snake] breeding method [in Zhejiang] has been approved and recognized by the province and the county. They see us as the corporation working with the farming families. So the company researches on the snakes and they hand them over to the farms for breeding. They said this model was working very well."

The research company is now extending past the old, original breeding methods -- of simply putting males and females together. Now meticulous research is behind how snakes breed, how to select good females for the snake reproduction, investigation into the reptiles' dietary needs, and the best method for incubating the snakes' eggs for reproduction.

After production of dried snakes, most are sent to medicine factories in China -- including the reptiles' body parts like snake livers and snake gallbladders. Who knew a snake had a gallbladder? Apparently it's more useful than the human equivalent.

But the high demand for snakes in traditional medicine isn't limited to China. Snake exports from the village are exported globally to countries including the United States, Germany, Japan and South Korea. In China, snake products from the village are sold in the large Zhejiang city of Hangzhou, by companies like the Hangzhou Woai Company which offers a range of reptilian treasures like snake powders.

Every part of a snake is treasured stuff in China -- and the Chinese also enjoy eating the reptiles. All of the snake-breeding's acquired the envy of competitors who are looking to hone in on Zisiqiao's financial millions. Hongchang says competition is stiff from breeders who are rearing snakes, on a larger scale, than in the village of Zisiqiao.

And snake-breeding is no small activity when it comes to risk: snake farmers have been bitten, some by deadly snakes including venomous vipers, and saved only through anti-venom medicines. As one former snake farmer, 55-year-old Yang Wenfu, phrases it after being bitten by a deadly viper: "Life is valuable and making money is secondary."


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