The Future Of Monitor Lizards

Some monitor lizards can live happily alongside mankind, and are valued for their contribution to our well-being. These species tend to have large distributions and at least some aspects of their biology have been studied. Many other species remain poorly known, particularly those from tropical forests. It is not certain whether these lizards are really very rare, or just very difficult to find, but their natural histories are still a complete mystery. There is very little data available on the effects of commercial exploitation on monitor lizard populations, but the studies that have been done seem to indicate that, outside Pakistan and India, few populations have been decimated by the demand for their skins and flesh and that habitat destruction may be responsible for reductions in numbers seen in most areas. The destruction of rainforests, woodlands, sand dunes and mangroves is by far the greatest threat to the future of many monitor lizards. Yet their dilemma is mirrored in some ways by the plight of the people sharing the land: In poveny-stricken, disease-ridden, overcrowded countries, subservient to the richer powers, the demand for food, money and space has pushed many species of animals up to, and over, the brink of extinction. So far there is no evidence that any species of monitor lizard has suffered this ultimate fate at the hand of man, but, given their remarkable ability to evade the eyes of scientists, it is not inconceivable that some large lizard species could become extinct without ever being noticed by anyone outside their natural range.

Monitor lizards have the potential to become an important economic asset of some of the world's poorest people. Many species will live almost anywhere and eat anything. They grow very quickly and can reproduce at phenomenal rates, but not one of the hundreds of millions of lizards killed for their hides and meat has been raised in captivity. The commercial trade in monitor lizards relies on poor people collecting the animals and selling them to exporters, who tan the hides and sell them abroad. Most of the profit, of course, is made by importers and traders in the countries where demand for the skins is greatest; the USA, Europe and Japan. No attempt will be made to farm the animals until it becomes difficult for local people to supply enough skins to meet the demand. Thus the trade in lizard skins can be seen as yet another example of the rich nations pillaging the poorer ones, whilst at the same time preaching about the need to conserve resources for future generations. The leather industries, who slaughter millions of these magnificent creatures each year, make no attempt to farm them on a commercial basis and will doubtless continue with their pillaging until they run out of monitors, or are prevented from trading in lizard skins by international legislation. At the same time hungry people can be expected to show nothing but contempt for laws instigated by the richest nations which outlaw their livelihood. The trade in reptile leather clearly provides essential income for many people in the deprived parts of the world. A combination of well implemented closed seasons to allow the lizards to reproduce in peace and some attempt at commercial fanning would delay a drastic reduction in monitor populations in many areas, but only the installation of a new world order, which rejects greed and intolerance and endorses the belief that all people of the world have an equal right to health and happiness, will make the Earth a secure home for all of our children.


Attribution / Courtesy: Daniel Bennett. 1995. A Little Book of Monitor Lizards. Viper Press U.K.