Farmer shelters flock of 10,000 storks

Published: 18/04/2009 05:00



Farmer Nguyen Van Ky takes a look at his wild boars.

VietNamNet Bridge - Trung Hieu joins a HCM City farmer, who has set aside half his garden as a shelter for storks, to watch the birds take flight.

His family may be teetering on the edge of poverty, but 67-year-old Nguyen Van Ky has given up half his land to help some unlikely two-legged friends.

Two hectares of Ky’s home in Long Thanh My Ward in District 9, on the outskirts of HCM City, has become a popular eco-garden, dedicated to providing a home to a huge flock of storks.

“The land has been in our family for generations,” he says.

“Before the storks came, we used to cultivate two rice crops every year. We have 11 children so keeping them all fed was hard work,” he says.

Faced with unrelenting hardship, Ky and his wife decided to take drastic action. The family dug several ponds across the area so they could raise fish, shrimp and ducks. On the banks of the ponds, the family grew coconut and fruit trees. They began to make more money, and life became easier. When the coconut trees began to bear fruit, hundreds of white storks arrived to shelter in the garden at night.

“It was a wonderful surprise for us,” Ky says. “There is a saying in Vietnamese: “Dat lanh chim dau” (birds shelter on good land). The flock has grown to around 10,000.”

Ky says at first he thought there must be something magical about his land to draw the storks there. But then he discovered many locals liked to serve stork meat at their drinking parties.

“We explored the neighbourhood and found that several kilometres from my home, there is a coconut plantation that covers hundreds of hectares, but the storks didn’t shelter there because they were afraid of people.”

Feeling that they had a responsibility to the birds, Ky and his wife saved one hectare of their land to grow bamboo for the storks to shelter in.

Ever aware of the threat of hunters, the couple eventually decided to confront the stork killers face to face. Having observed who the perpetrators were, Ky and his wife lured them into their home with alcohol and cooking, where they set about trying to convince them to change their ways.

By raising local people’s awareness about the importance of protecting the environment, gradually, fewer hunters targeted the storks.

Resisting temptation

Storks fly around the Hong Ky ecological garden.

“It was hard for me and my wife to scrape together the money to send our kids to school,” Ky says.

“But even though we struggled, we never considered abandoning the land.”

Ky stood firm, even when faced with a big offer from a Taiwanese business group.

“They wanted to give us 7,000 taels of gold for our land,” Ky says.

“At first we were sorely tempted by the proposal, but something wasn’t right. A cong of land (1,000sq.m) in the neighbourhood costs only 0.1 tael, so why should my two hectares be sold at such a huge price?” Ky says.

“Then we realised that actually the Taiwanese were after the storks, not the land, so I asked them how could I have the right to sell something that belongs to nature.”

The businessmen didn’t give up easily, Ky says.

“They came back a few times, each time trying to convince me that my land would get cleared by the Government for a construction project, and I would get little compensation. But I stuck to my guns. I’ve never regretted my decision.”

Bird fanciers

The stork garden has won Ky and his family many friends in high places.

“I’m a poor farmer, but because of the storks I have met important leaders. I met Party Secretary Truong Tan Sang, who was then a municipal leader. He has visited my garden many times. During an outbreak of avian flu, Sang phoned me to ask how the storks were,” he says.

The city’s Tourism Department has set up bio-tours to Ky’s land. They called it Hong Ky Ecological Garden.

Today Hong Ky provides stable income for about 20 labourers. The farmer also recently invested VND3 billion (US$171,428) to build a petrol station on the road by the garden. It receives hundreds of visitors at the weekends and holidays.

The couple received official recognitions for the garden last year, when it received a prize for being the third most Beautiful Biological Garden in HCM City.

The garden receives a lot of attention, Ky says.

“Many filmmakers have come to our garden to shoot their movies. Once director Le Cung Bac came here to film Cong Tu Bac Lieu (Dude of Bac Lieu), I agreed to play the role of the housekeeper.”

Looking good

The storks seem to have delivered good fortune to Ky and his wife. They have managed to save enough money to buy another six hectares beyond the river for their children to develop their businesses. The family has transformed the area into an orchard.

Visitors on the eco-tour to the stork nesting site often take the chance to also explore the orchard. Many come from the city’s inner districts to escape the smog and get some fresh air.

“It’s nice to relax in a hammock in the garden and feel the wind from the river. At sunset the land turns white with all the returning storks,” says Tran Minh Tue, a visitor from the city’s Hoc Mon District.

With things looking up, five years ago, the farmer travelled to Nam Cat Tien National Park in the central province of Binh Thuan and brought home a couple of wild boars.

He bred them, and the trial was surprisingly successful, so the city’s Union of Scientific Technological Associations granted him a merit certificate celebrating Ky as the first person in the city to breed the animals.

But his ambitions didn’t stop there. Hearing news that people in Thailand had also successfully bred this kind of boar, he headed there to learn more. Today, his herd includes about 300 boars from Thailand, Viet Nam and Malaysia.

The family opened a restaurant. The chef, Nguyen Thi Le Huong, later became Ky’s daughter-in-law. All his children are now grown-up, with the three youngest still at university.

Many people put Ky’s good fortune down to his hard work, but the farmer is insistent his fate has been entangled with the lives of his feathery friends.

“I don’t know if the storks own me a debt of gratitude, or if I own them a debt for my fortune,” he says.


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