Saturday, 13 September 2014

International smuggling threatens the Holy Grail of the reptile world

Posted by: Martha Stokes / posted on September 10th, 2014

An unusual and little-known monitor lizard from Borneo that has captured the interest of reptile collectors is emerging as the latest victim of the global illicit wildlife trade, an investigative report by TRAFFIC warns.

Lanthanotus borneensis or the Earless Monitor Lizard had long remained virtually unknown to the outside world due to its subterranean habits and limited distribution in north-western Borneo. Unknown, that is, until recently gaining attention from unscrupulous reptile collectors.

Earless Monitor Lizards have no external ear opening, a cylindrical lengthened body covered in scaly tubercles (due to an increased number of vertebrae), small limbs, a prehensile tail, a forked tongue, and small eyes with the lower eyelid covered by translucent “windows”. As such it is placed in its own monospecific family Lanthanotidae.

The small, orange-brown lizard with beaded skin was once primarily of interest to scientists because of its unique adaptations for living below ground, and there were few instances of private ownership reported during the last 30 years. However, there has been a sudden emergence in the trade of this species over the past two years.

Through its research, TRAFFIC detected international trade in Earless Monitor Lizards that has largely been carried out online from 2013 onwards. Specific instances mentioning the species were documented on forums and social networking sites in Japan, the Ukraine, France, Germany and the Czech Republic.

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