Water Monitor Lizard Harvesting Unsustainable
June 3, 2013

Rate Of Water Monitor Lizard Harvesting Unsustainable, Says Study

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Some of the world´s biggest and most colorful lizards are under serious threat because of their prized skin and their value as pets, according to a new study in the online journal Herpetological Conservation and Biology.

In the study, a team of German and Indonesian scientists found that Southeast Asian monitor lizards are being killed or removed from their habitat at an unsustainable rate. In Indonesia, the legal export of skins of the water monitor lizard (Varanus salvator) for handbags and watch straps accounts for the loss of 450,000 lizards each year.

"It is their colorfulness, their rarity value and strong protection status that drives the demand,” said co-author Mark Auliya, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Conservation (UFZ) in Leipzig. “Quite often four-digit amounts are paid, for pairs occasionally even five-digit sums. Even the large Komodo dragons are illegally traded, although international trade regulations under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) do not permit commercial trade of wild specimens of this species."

The monitor lizards also face human imposed threats from farmers protecting their livestock, traffic and even as bush meat.

In the study, the authors noted a significant information gap with respect to monitor lizards.

"For that reason, we created a comprehensive identification key of all monitor lizard species of the study region including many photographs,” said Evy Arida from the Indonesian National Natural History Museum near Jakarta. “This key shall assist the management authorities and customs to improve the enforcement of current legislations in order to warrant sustainable conservation of Indonesian monitor lizards.”

“Consumers should be aware of their responsibility in purchasing wild captured reptiles,” Auliya added. “Therefore, captive-bred specimens from reliable sources must always be favored and also strongly promoted.”

The study authors said they are strongly in favor of reducing export quotas of some lizard species and the establishing quotas for species currently without any. They also advocate stricter legislative regulations and regular trainings to reduce and prevent illegal trade activities.

Researchers from the UFZ and the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig in Bonn“¯have been working on what they see as the underestimated diversity of monitor lizard in Southeast Asia, their distribution and their relationships to each other. In 2010, Bonn researchers discovered three new lizard species in the Philippines.

“These are only the last spectacular new discoveries of large-bodied monitor species.” said Wolfgang Böhme, senior herpetologist and former Vice-director of the Bonn facility. "Since the 1990s we described more than 10 new species from SE-Asia and New Guinea. Among these were the eye-catching Quince monitor lizard described from the Moluccas in 1997 and a strikingly blue-colored tree monitor lizard discovered in 2001. Latter species is restricted to little Batanta Island offshore north-western New Guinea.”

“In zoos, monitor lizards can serve as flagship species for the conservation of their kind,” added Thomas Ziegler, Curator of the Aquarium and Coordinator of the Cologne Zoo. “Within breeding programs, zoos also have the chance to build up captive populations of species with very limited distribution ranges.”