BANGKOK: Giant African snails endemic to Thailand are getting the red carpet treatment to keep them producing top-notch slime, say farmers harvesting the mucus for use in cosmetics.
At a farm in Nakhon Nayok province, a two-hour drive north-east of Bangkok, Tawatchai Maneemart tends to some 3,000 snails.
He lets them roam freely in a 21 square metre (226 sq ft) enclosure that mimics their natural habitat, and feeds them with organic cucumbers and green leafy vegetables.
These snails, about three inches long, are bred by farmers for their mucus, made popular in large part by a South Korean beauty trend that uses the filtered slime in face serums and moisturisers.
"If we nurture them well and keep them happy by providing them with a pleasant habitat and good food, they will be healthy," said Tawatchai, explaining that healthier snails bred in a stress-free environment are more likely to produce high-quality mucus.
Advocates of the snail cream say the mucus is filled with collagen and other compounds that aid in hydrating the skin, and which, over time, can fade skin imperfections, such as wrinkles and scars.
To extract the gel, Tawatchai and his team hold a snail over a petri dish and drop water on it to stimulate its production of mucus. The secretion is extracted and bottled.
Once collected, the slime is sold to Aden International Co., a Thailand-based business that turns most of it into a powder, which it sells to cosmetics companies in South Korea and the United States, its Chief Executive Voranun Puttarathuvanun said.
Aden International also makes its own face serum using the mucus, which it says is popular in China.
The company declined to name its customers.
Voranun said the best part of the snail slime business was its minimal cost.
"You don't even need to buy the snails as they can be collected, especially in the rainy season", she said of the land snails from the Achatina genus.
Tawatchai said his snails earn him an average monthly income of US$940, almost five times the country's US$193 minimum monthly wage.
Cosmetic brands popular in Thailand that use snail mucus include products by Do Day Dream, which uses slime extracted in South Korea in its skin-whitening cream, and Beauty Buffet's Lansley Magic Snail White Cream.
Other countries including Chile, Italy and France also breed snails for their mucus.
There are about 85 snail farms in Nakhon Nayok province where farmers say they extract the mucus no more than once a month to maintain the animals' health.
The snails even get a break from having their slime extracted for four months each year - to keep them healthy and "happy".
(Reporting by Juarawee Kittisilpa; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Karishma Singh and Neil Fullick)