It is late July in Takeo province, as Lor Sam Ath opens a large, neon orange cooler, removing a massive slab of ice. The Takeo resident then proceeds to hack away at the slab, icy shards flying in every direction as he carves pieces of ice the size of a grapefruit.
The bare-chested man inserts a hunk of ice into each of the 10 large, wire-mesh cages in his front yard. Each cage is packed to the brim with squirming — and a few dead — rice field rats. The ice allows the rodents to stay hydrated and survive the journey to neighboring Vietnam where they will be sold.
Sam Ath and his wife Tum Sok are among the many brokers who collect rats caught by villagers in Takeo’s Koh Andet district. During the rainy season, the rising waters in the rice fields surrounding the district provide an ample supply of palm-sized, gray rodents.