Despite being the scourge of cities, many farmers in the southern province of Dong Thap now consider the bush rats in their fields a delicious treat, as well as a handy source of income they can pursue in between tending crops, Tran Trong Trung reports.
For Tran Ba Phu from Tan Cong Sinh Commune, Dong Thap Province, the rainy season means one thing: bush rat hunting.
“We love tracking bush rats during this time of year,” he says. “We often go hunting in groups of five-seven people, with two or three dogs to chase the rats. “My brother Tran Ba Hung and I can usually catch at least 50 rats in half a day – this both improves our daily meal and provides an important source of income for my family.”
In the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta during the flood season (from May to October of the lunar calendar) most of the fields are underwater.
Phu who lives in Tam Nong District, says bush rats have to move to new habitats to avoid drowning. Farmers don’t like the rodents as they destroy their crops, but they enjoy eating their meat, so the farmers see the season as a good opportunity to protect their crops and treat their families.
To kill the rats, people use many different measures such as trapping and smoking.
Near the entrance to their burrows, hunters fix traps so when the rats can no longer stand the smoke, they flee their holes and become caught in the traps. This is a particularly popular way to catch the bush rats in dry seasons, says Phu.
Farmers in Dong Thap Muoi and Long Xuyen Quadrangle take a different tact, preparing specialised tools to hunt bush rats during the flood season.
They often use homemade shotguns, firing steel arrows instead of bullets. These guns can be used to shoot accurately within a distance of up to 6m.
They also use spears to stab the hamsters. Each spear is made of a sharp iron point and a 4-5m long bamboo handle.
The farmers also use dogs to help them track the rats and prevent them from jumping into nearby rivers and canals.
“Recently, I led my two sons, carrying spears, a shotgun and two dogs,” says farmer Le Thanh Tan from Tan My Commune, Thanh Binh District. We went hunting along the woods, grass fields and hills. After four hours, we caught nearly 70 rats – and with a selling price of VND45,000 to 50,000 per kilogram – it provided us with a significant source of income.”
Besides the use of shotguns and spears, farmers in the Delta also use traps which are very effective and safe for people.
Much like the smoking method popular in the dry season, the rats are often forced from their burrows into traps using water during the flood season.
Farmers also use another method: they build “homes” to attract the rats, with a view to killing them later.
They take tree branches and bamboo sticks, tying them into 1-2m long bundles. The bundles are placed around areas where rats often appear, such as near coconut and banana trees and next to the canals.
They then put rice, maize, beans and potatoes as bait near the bundles to attract rats, often leaving straw lying around as well to encourage the rats to nest in these makeshift homes.
“My family have hunted rats with this method for more than three years now,” says Tran Van Hai in Hoa Binh Commune. Each time we can catch a few dozen rats at least.”
For Nguyen Thanh Giang in Thanh Binh District, bundle hunting is also his favourite method for trapping rats.
“Each time my family catch up to 50 rats, which we sold for a reasonable sum. We also caught some snakes and cooked them with green beans to create a delicious and nutritious porridge.”
The level of activity sparked by the flood season trade is a sight to behold. At present, scores of traders are arriving at the fields each day to purchase rats which they will then sell at regional markets.
Hoang Anh also from Tam Nong District has been trading rats for more than seven years. “Each year, at the beginning of April (lunar calendar) I begin to purchase bush rats from the fields. Then I transport them to sell at markets in the towns and cities of An Giang, Hau Giang, Dong Thap provinces.
“On average, I buy and sell around 100 bush rats each day. I normally stop trading around the end of September, by which point I’ve usually made a profit of about VND5-7 million.”
Nguyen Van Minh, a resident from Tam Nong said: “Bush rat meat is delicious, especially at the end of the summer-autumn season, so they sell like hot cakes.”
He adds: “There are many dishes you can make with rat meat, such as fried leeks, boiled rice and a number of grilled dishes. They are all very delicious and provide great nutrition.”
Phu says aside from giving farmers in Delta much-needed extra income, the hunting and trading of bush rats creates jobs for many rural labourers and most importantly, reduces rodent numbers to give crops a better chance of survival. — VNS