Keywords : Monitor lizard, survey, distribution, conservation.

Summary :

The Animal Wealth of India is about 75,500 species in which around 420 are reptiles. India has a great diversity of herpeto fauna belonging to some 137 genera and 26 familes which is close to 8% of the world’s fauna. Many of India’s herps are unique, endemic or of relict form. Out of these reptiles lizards are the most familiar. The lizards form one of the largest herpetofaunal groups in India comprising 158 species belonging to 8 of the 18 known families around the world.

Man has extensively exploited lizards including monitor lizards for food and his social needs. In India Monitor Lizards are eaten and they are also a source of leather. Live monitors are used in India in fertility rites, or serpent festivals. Over-hunting combined with the problem of habitat loss, has resulted these species being pushed to endangered status. The greatest threat to lizard population is permanent habitat alteration or destruction, especially in complex and poorly understood regions of tropic and sub-tropics.

In India four kinds of monitors occur. They are Bengal monitor lizazd Varanus bengalensis, water monitor lizard Varanus salvator, desert monitor lizard Varanus griseus and yellow monitor lizard Varanus flavescens. Of the above four species, the Bengal monitor lizards Varanus bengalensis is very common. Detailed information on the present status and distribution of these monitors is lacking.

The aim of the project was to determine the current status and distribution of four species of monitor lizards, assess the trade’s impact on wild populations, evaluate the effect of conservation programmes on the populations and to prepare conservation action plan.

The study reported the occurrence of different species of monitor lizards in various biogeographic zones and in different states of India. There is no report of any monitor lizard in the Trans Himalayan zone as the monitor lizard cannot survive in such extreme cold climate. V.bengalensis was reproted from Himachal Pradesh, parts of Jammu & Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh. Two species V.bengalensis and V.griseus were reported in the Indian desert. Three species of Varanus were reported in the semi arid zone which include some parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and the whole Haryana and Punjab. They were V.bengalensis, V.griseus and V.flavescens. Though V. flavescens was reported from Haryana, no animal was located during the present study. The most common lizards on the Andaman and the Nicobar Islands was a water monitor lizards (V. salvator). Along the coastal zone, the water monitor lizard, V. salvator was reported to be found in mangroves swamps of Sunderbans in West Bengal and Bhiterkanika in Orissa.

State-wise information on each species and their distribution has been provided. Survey has been conducted in different States to collect the information on availability and the usage of the animals. Bengal monitor lizard reported to occur in almost every district of Madhya Pradesh. In the State of Bengal, three species of monitor lizards were reported in different habitat : V. bengalenis, V.salvator and V.flavescens. Yellow monitor lizard was reported to be highly secretive as compared with the water monitor and land monitor and difficult to locate a specimen in the wild. The ‘Ganpur’ catchment area was very good for yellow monitor lizards, where the species was found in good numbers. V. salvator was reported in the Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve. The Bengal monitor lizard was reported widely distributed in the different district of the States. In Orissa, three species of Monitor lizards : V. bengalenis, V.salvator and V. flavescens were reported. In Andhra Pradesh, Bengal monitor lizard was found to be present throughout the States. V.bengalensis, V.flavescens and V.griseus was reported from the State of U.P. Rajasthan has V. bengalenis and V. griseus whereas Kerala has only one species V. bengalensis.

All monitors were reported diurnal, reaching their full activity level when the sum was up and their habitat has warmed up. The plains and the desert monitors use their claws as tools to dig out dens. All monitors feed on other animals, the smaller species pray on insects, small lizard and the nesting of small mammals. Monitors reported to have a very special preference for eggs.

All the species reported were facing threat due to human activity. These animals were still hunted for illegal export of skin through border countries like Bengladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. They were also extensively used within the country to make musical instruments, extract oil for medicines for body ailments and meat for food. In some places, they were killed thinking that these animals as poisonous.

The study suggested following priority actions for monitor lizards

- Surveys of poorly known species(V. griseus, V.flavescens) to assess distribution and status
- Protection of critical habitats for wild populations.
- Prevention of illegal hunting and trade.
- Awareness programmes to revive support for monitor lizard conservation and
- Establishment of sustainable use programmes for common species.

Principal Investigator : Dr. R.J. Rao, School of Studies in Zoology, Jiwaji University, Gwalior

Period of Study : 1994-97