Researchers in the Philippines Discover Two New Asian Water Monitors in a Manila Black Market
January 15, 2015
A University of Kansas herpetologist who has spent years cataloging and conserving reptiles, amphibians, and other animals in the Philippines has discovered two new species of Asian monitor lizard, not in the rain forests of that island nation, but rather in a black market for exotic animals in the country’s capital city of Manila. Rafe Brown, curator-in-charge of the herpetology division at the Biodiversity Institute at the university, said the lizards were discovered in a market that he further described as “bizarre and grotesque.”
The lizards, Varanus dalubhasa and Varanus bangonorum, were initially thought to be the same species as a more widespread lizard native to the Philippines but genetic sequencing of the animals, which the scientists use to build a database for law enforcement purposes told them that the lizards were entirely different species. One lizard species came from a different island and the other from a remote peninsula in the Philippines and were isolated for quite a while geologically, Brown said.
"Both are gorgeous, black-and-white or black- and yellow-colored animals," Brown said in a statement released by the University of Kansas. "They are dark in general appearance with bright speckling of white or yellow spots arranged in rows and stripes around the body, as if wearing shining necklaces. One gets up to a little over three feet in length, and the other is somewhat larger at about four feet. They're monitor lizards, so they're alert, with large eyes, continually flicking long tongues, which they 'smell' with, and they're generally very alert and look quite intelligent."
Brown said that the purveyors of these illicit and endangered animals have taken to Facebook to ply their wares. Brown said that Facebook is a rapidly growing scourge of wildlife protection "Today, Facebook is the primary means with which unscrupulous individuals deal in wares of illegally harvested wild animals."
These traders, in cooperation with corrupt government officials, politicians, zookeepers, pet store owners and others, will continue to supply the market for animals such as these and the illegal trade will continue to flourish in this island nation where justice is selective.
John B. Virata keeps a western hognose snake, a ball python, two corn snakes, a king snake, and two leopard geckos. His first snake, a California kingsnake, was purchased at a pet store for $5. His first pet reptile was a green anole that arrived in a small box via mail order. Follow him on Twitter @johnvirata