Turtles have a unique place in the heart of China. People make meals out of them and raise them in their own homes as pets. Some even worship them. In recent years, turtle breeding has seen a dramatic upturn in profitability and investors are growing, especially in the realm of rural home owners. But is this popular business just another pyramid scam with no end?
To find out, we asked Mr. Luo, a 66-year-old local man, about his business. Luo has raised turtles for almost a decade, buying his first common yellow pond turtle for RMB 70 as a baby in 2007 on account of his personal affection for the creature he said. Today the value has soared ten times. He told us that raising turtles doesn’t require much equipment or technology, nor time and money.
Two years ago he realized the market’s profitability and expanded, modifying his rooftop into four breeding houses with constantly maintained temperature and humidity. With hundreds of turtles from five species, he tallies their total worth at RMB 1 million. Last year, he sold a one kilogram red-necked pond turtle at RMB 80,000 after raising it for a year.
The golden coin turtle, with three bulging stripes on its shell has been the highest valued for decades and has been hunted into scarcity. Today, even babies are sold for RMB 20,000 each. They are described in ancient Chinese medical books dating back thousands of years and are still considered an effective cancer treatment in Chinese folk medicine.
Reproducing turtles in a home-based scale in Dongguan is quite common, almost every local knows someone who is making money farming turtles. But where does the market end? It seems everybody is selling their turtles to another farmer, who will raise them for a while and sell to another investor. The number of turtles is rising but there’s no consumer market, few restaurants or individuals buy these rare species. To some extent, Luo knows the industry is full of bubbles, but until it bursts, he wants to make as much cash as he can.