This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.
A pungent smell greets me as I arrive at the front yard of a house in Kapetakan, West Java, home to an infamous village-wide gecko-hunting operation, where thousands of dead geckos lay in piles. It’s weird to think that someone actually hunts those harmless creatures that hang out on your wall.
Sugandhi, who goes by one name, is the head of the operation and the principal of his village’s primary school.
He only got into the business in 2008, but villagers of Kapetakan have been in the gecko trade for much longer. They also dabble in the frog and snake business, but it's geckos that bring in the big bucks.
Through his business, Sugandhi creates jobs for his neighbours. His hunters are spread out across six villages. After a day of catching geckos, they gather them at Sugandhi’s house every evening. Their methods are simple; they hunt with only a flashlight and a stick smeared with glue. They go around residents’ homes, looking out for the little critters, catching them with the sticks, and depositing them into a basket.
The geckos are usually dead by the time they reach Sugandhi’s house, where he gives hunters Rp40.000 (US$2.80) per kilogram. The geckos are then rinsed with water and a powdered detergent to remove the slimy film that covers their bodies. Sugandhi’s helpers then roast the geckos for two hours and leave them under the sun until they dry out and turn dark brown.
The women take over the final step: packaging. Each woman packs between 30 to 40 units a day, each weighing 0.1 kilograms. The geckos are sold in packs of ten at Rp250.000 (US$17.53) per kilogram.
The geckos are sold as an alternative medicine for itchy skin and allergies, despite little to no scientific evidence. They are also an ingredient in various types of cosmetics. Sugandhi says his biggest buyers are from China and the United States.
Scroll down to see more photos of the bizarre gecko-hunting operation: