VN's Dr Dolittle strikes it rich with reptiles
|Safe hands: Huynh Chi Cong shows impressive snake handling skills, honed through years of practice. — VNS Photos Quang Dan
In just four short years, animal exporter Huynh Chi Cong has gone from odd-job man to one of Viet Nam's most respected businessmen. The snake-charming salesman told Thai Phuong
the secrets of his success.
When he started four years ago, Huynh Chi Cong was a struggling businessman raising rabbits on a small farm. But with research, hard work and a fondness for animals, Viet Nam's Dr Dolittle has grown his empire into a company specialising in breeding snakes, iguanas and tortoises for export.
Before founding the Phuoc Thinh Breeding Products and Services Co Ltd in HCM City's Cu Chi District, 34-year-old Cong had a number of jobs such as mason and driver.
By 2008, he started raising rabbits but found the animals were often struck by diseases making it difficult for him to get them to market.
On a trip to Tay Ninh Province to study rabbit farming, he learned that raising grass-snakes could bring much richer rewards.
Inspired by the news, Cong borrowed VND200 million (US$9,520) with interest from a bank and started to raise 100 grass-snakes. But his inexperience told and many of the early snakes died due to disease and lack of care.
"They were too sensitive to weather and thus suffered from diseases which I did not know how to find the medicines for," said Cong.
Despite suffering a loss of VND20 million ($950), Cong wasn't discouraged and pledged to keep on his business.
After successfully finding a source to import snake medicines, Cong's farm began to grow.
To ensure a stable source of food for the grass-snakes, he started raising frogs. Through this, he learned that iguanas eat dead frogs and immediately turned his attention to iguanas, which are easy to raise and also highly profitable.
Since then, he's fed the iguanas with dead frogs, and the snakes with live ones.
During his four years raising the animals, Cong has come to understand the particular needs of different kinds of animals.
"Iguanas should be exposed to the sun like crocodiles," he said, adding that their cages should be simple - an area of 9sq.m is enough for 25 iguanas.
"We should not let the iguanas get too fat because it will affect the meat quality," he said.
If an iguana is over 4kg, its price will be affected.
Pointing to an iguana with a big belly, Cong said it was nearly 5kg and that the owner of the iguana had asked him to help it lose weight.
"Iguanas are ok, but raising grass-snakes is painstaking," said Cong.
The snake raising cellar must be built carefully by brick and then enclosed with a net.
The feed, generally live frogs, mice and toads, should be put in a bucket so the leftovers will not scatter and make the cellar dirty.
The snakes should be fed twice or three times per week, while water buckets should also be put in the cellar so the snakes can drink and bathe.
Light bulbs should be installed in the cellar to help the snakes adapt to the light and keep them warm especially in winter.
At present, Cong's company is raising more than 400 grass-snakes, each weighing more than 1kg, nearly 2 tonnes of iguanas and 40 red pheasants which are currently in their reproductive period.
Red pheasant is listed in the Viet Nam Red Book, a list of rare and endangered species of fauna and flora native to the country, thus raising red pheasant must be permitted by the forest management offices. Cong registered for a licence from the office to ensure his exports would run smoothly.
As an indication of how business is growing, Cong earned more than VND600 million ($28,570) from exporting grass-snakes and iguanas in 2011.
So far this year his total sales stand at more than VND1 billion ($47,620) and he expects to earn VND2 billion ($95,240) by the end of the year.
By now he paid all his debts from bank.
Moreover, his farm now extends to 4,000sq.m and besides exports, also supply breeding animals for local farmers. Cong also gives them guidance on taking care of the animals and how to sell the products.
Dang Minh Hung, deputy secrectary of the Cu Chi Youth Union, said: "Phuoc Thinh is the first company in the country to raise wild animals for export. It is also a successful wild animal farm in the city at present."
Meanwhile, Le Thi Anh Tuyet, secretary of the Phuoc Vinh An Commune Youth Union said, "With a hard working character and inquisitive mind, Cong overcame all obstacles to achieve success on his own."
Cong is a shining example for youths of how to succeed in business, she said.
Last year Cong was commended as a youth possessing excellent production and trading skills in the south-eastern region. — VNS