A team of German and Indonesian scientists recently published a first comprehensive study on the conservation and threat status of all SE-Asian species of monitor lizards. This critical study was published in the well-known online journal “Herpetological Conservation and Biology“.
Two thirds of all captured reptiles meant for the pet trade do not enter the trade chain because they perish earlier under cruel conditions at the first collecting points along these trade routes.
Photo: Mark Auliya (UFZ)
Nearly 500,000 water monitor lizards are slaughtered each year legally in Indonesia for luxury products in western countries. Because the profit margins are huge, the pressure on wild monitor lizards is very high.
Photo: Mark Auliya (UFZ)
Germany plays a major role in the international trade with live reptiles. On June 8th, 2013, the world’s largest reptile fair will take place in Germany (Hamm, Westphalia).
The authors conclude that several of these fascinating giant lizards are obviously exploited in unsustainable levels, even though national and international regulations and laws are in place.
Current harvest levels of SE-Asian Monitor Lizzrds are underestimated. Besides the great demand for the pet trade (here most species are targeted for), the commercial trade in skins must be understood as a major threat for few monitor lizard species. Next to crocodilians and giant snakes, monitor lizards are the species group of lizards that are exploited most frequently within the skin trade. Annually, Indonesia documents the legal export of 450,000 skins of the water monitor lizard (Varanus salvator) for the manufacture of e.g. handbags and watchstraps. The latter are offered for example in Germany as “lizard straps”. Dr. André Koch of the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig (ZFMK) in Bonn has strong reservations and states: “Especially, the poorly monitored trade in island species and populations must be feared detrimentally, if current trade levels continue; here over-exploitation and extinction are closely linked”. Since many years, and alike his co-authors, Dr. Koch is engaged in research on the monitor lizards of SE-Asia specifically regarding their underestimated diversity, their distribution and their phylogenetic relationships.In 2010, for instance, the reptile experts from Bonn were able to identify three new species of monitor lizards of the Philippines. “These are only the last spectacular new discoveries of large-bodied monitor species.” explains Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Böhme, senior herpetologist and former Vice-director of the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig in Bonn. He further states, that “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-coloured tree monitor lizard discovered in 2001. Latter species is restricted to little Batanta Island offshore north-western New Guinea. This island has a size of only 450 km2, which is comparable with Lake Constance.”
SE-Asia including New Guinea represents the global centre of monitor lizard diversity with currently 44 described species. Although other reptile groups, such as skinks and geckos, largely exceed monitor lizard diversity in this region (Indonesia represents one of 17 megadiversity countries worldwide and harbours more than 700 reptile species!), the giant lizards occupy the end of the food chain. Particularly New Guinea, the world’s second largest island, still possesses wide untouched rain forests and harbours the highest monitor lizard diversity in Southeast Asia. Dr. Auliya, who visited the Indonesian part of the island in 2011, reports on a recent study of Australian colleagues, who demonstrated that approximately only one third of all captured reptiles meant for the pet trade do actually enter the trade chain. The remainder perishes mostly under cruel conditions at the first collecting points along these trade routes. “Consumers should be aware of their responsibility in purchasing wild captured reptiles. Therefore, captive-bred specimens from reliable sources must always be favoured and also strongly promoted.” as Dr. Auliya notes.
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