Trading reptiles: Find a gecko, pick it up and overnight you’ll have good luck

Published: August 2, 2013

The leopard geckos, found mostly in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, are differentiated from the other geckos through their colours, spotty skin and fat tails. People in Thatta make money by catching and selling the leapord geckos weighing more than 100 grammes. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS

THATTA: 

They are not like other lizards – they’re colourful and have fat tails, usually found with spots on their skin and are known to be among the most popular reptile pets. But most interestingly, they are believed to have the power to make people rich overnight.

These are the characteristics of leopard geckos which can be found in Thatta. Residents of the area are scared of their bite but not enough to stop catching them and selling them for money. Late into the night, they go into the hilly areas of Thatta in search of the fat-tailed geckos, locally known as ‘hann khann’, in hopes of making big bucks after selling it. But there is a catch – according to the myth, the gecko can only make the hunter wealthy overnight if it weighs above 100 grammes. The price starts in thousands and can go up much higher depending on the weight of the gecko.

The leopard geckos, found mostly in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, are differentiated from the other geckos through their colours, spotty skin and fat tails. People in Thatta make money by catching and selling the leapord geckos weighing more than 100 grammes. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS

When asked about who was buying the geckos and why, the residents didn’t have much to share except for a few ‘conspiracy theories’. “The venom of these geckos is being used by countries to build weapons of mass destruction,” said a villager, Abdul Aziz,  with confidence.

The Express Tribune learnt that those in the business of selling geckos discuss the rates with each other and share their contacts but mostly do their business with a middleman of the area or Karachi, almost never meeting the actual buyer.

“The market isn’t thriving these days but one can still make good money,” said a local of Thatta, Sultan Ahmed*, who has at least 10 geckos with different colours, on the condition of anonymity. “Traders from Karachi contact us and negotiate the price. The traders then export geckos to other countries but I am not sure for what purpose they are being used.”

Weight matters

He told The Express Tribune that his friend sold a gecko weighing 104 grammes for Rs120,000 a few days ago. “I am trying to increase their weight. I am also in search of heavy ones and if I find those which weigh more than 100 grammes, then I’ll be a wealthy man.”

The leopard geckos, found mostly in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, are differentiated from the other geckos through their colours, spotty skin and fat tails. People in Thatta make money by catching and selling the leapord geckos weighing more than 100 grammes. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS

Another man, who has over a dozen colourful geckos, also said that lightweight geckos were of no use to him. “My son catches scorpions daily as the geckos love to eat them but my friends serve them vegetables and small insects,” he said. “A number of people contact me but they all ask about their weight first.”

Unmonitored trade

“No one checks the trade of geckos, not even the wildlife department. I don’t think there is any ban on this trade as geckos are being sold for the last 20 years,” said a villager, Mohammad Zubair*, who was the owner of three geckos. “We catch them when there is complete darkness.”

People in Thatta’s hilly area said that although the trade was an old one, it was only a year ago that residents outsiders learnt of the value of selling a gecko. “People would visit our area and catch these colourful lizards, saying they were using them for medicines while we had no idea how much the geckos were worth,” said the residents.

According to Nadeem Mirbahar, the natural resource management coordinator of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Pakistan, leopard geckos were being exported as they were the most popular pet reptiles in other countries. In his opinion, the colourful geckos found in different parts of Pakistan were not under threat, suggesting, “A survey [of leopard geckos] is required for their conservation.”

He said that the presence of leopard geckos was a clear indication of other habitats, such as of fox, jackal, cat and other wild animals. He, however, did not agree with the theory of geckos being exported for medicines.

On the other hand, Saeed Akhtar Baloch of the Sindh Wildlife Department’s Hyderabad office clearly stated that it was illegal to catch and trade such species. “We’ll take action against the people involved in this business. It is possible that the geckos are being exported illegally for medical purposes,” he said. “The locals [of Thatta] should take care of their species and not allow anyone to play with their ecosystem.”

*Names changed to protect privacy

Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2013.

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