Monitor lizard and Gangetic dolphin: Human greed and superstitions driving them closer to extinction

Meet two little-known but fascinating creatures that need your help. The first is the monitor lizard.

Monitor lizards look similar to the dragons we encountered in fairy tales. Of the 31 species in the world, four are from India: The Bengal monitor, the two-banded monitor, the desert monitor and the yellow monitor lizard. All four are severely endangered and protected under Schedule-I of the Wildlife Protection Act. Which means anyone caught trapping or killing them can be punished with a fine of Rs 25,000 and five years in jail. But it would still seem that no one cares.

These useful jungle creatures, who have an average life expectancy of 15, rarely even live till they are 3-years-old. Which means they don't even attain sexual maturity. Their meat and eggs are eaten, and their body parts used for all sorts of fake remedies. The animals are hunted down, their spines and legs broken, and they are then thrown into sacks and taken to villages and cities where they are kept alive in dreadful pain until the trader finds a gullible customer who will buy their sweat, organs, fat or bones — which are used in making aphrodisiacs, medicines or amulets.

Parts of the creature's body are sold to ignorant people, who buy them thinking their diseases would be cured. It's a common sight to see these helpless creatures being roasted in small-towns markets. The tongue of a live monitor lizard is cut off and is supposed to be swallowed whole, in the ridiculous hope that it will cure tuberculosis. The blood from its slit belly is said to cure asthma, its fat rubbed on eyelids as a cure for failing vision or rubbed into wounds to hasten recovery. Its head, cut off and burnt, is said to be a one-stop cure for every disease. Its penis is used by tantriks as black magic. Its flesh is touted to have aphrodisiac powers. Nor do we spare its young; the babies are steeped in alcohol, which is then drunk to increase male potency. Even the eggs are considered a delicacy and cooked.

Gangetic Dolphin is an endangered species native to India but killed by fishermen. AFP

Gangetic Dolphin is an endangered species native to India but killed by fishermen. AFP

Even this isn't the end of the list of horrors we heap on this reclusive creature. The lizard skin bags, wallets and shoes are all made from the skins of these poor animals. In some parts of India, drums and chambers of stringed instruments are made using their skins. During Nag Panchami, they are dug out of their resting places, nailed to posts and carried in processions until they die.

There is just no end to the torture we put these small, vulnerable creatures through. And that's because nobody ever protests.

Monitors are nothing like the primitive dragon-like creatures they are said to resemble. They are an extraordinarily versatile, hardy family of lizards that are good runners, diggers, climbers and swimmers; both tree and cave dwellers. They are a vital part of the ecosystem that keeps us alive, and to kill them or to ignore those who carry on with this trade is endangering our own lives. They could live in peace if we let them. But it seems we Indians have decided to destroy another species to further our own false beliefs, superstitions and passing fancies.

Don't buy lizard skin in any form, catch lizard sellers when they enter your town and take them to the police. There are too few of these creatures left to take any more chances with their lives.

The second creature is one even fewer people know of. And because it cannot be kept in zoos and will soon be gone off the face of this Earth, you are unlikely to encounter it ever. The Gangetic Dolphin is a creature unique to India; it finds a mention in our epic, the Mahabharata. Legend has it that when the Ganges descended from heaven to earth as a result of King Bhagirath's prayers, a festive procession gathered and wound through the land to join the river. It included all our water creatures from the greatest fish and alligators to the smallest turtles and frogs — and at the head of the parade marched the dolphin.

Found only in the river waters of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and the Indus, the Gangetic Dolphin is a freshwater mammal that is locally known as Susa. It is a shy creature with tiny eyes and very poor eyesight. Unable to breathe underwater it comes up for air every few seconds and so swims close to the surface and can be easily caught.

And it is. By fishermen who kill it for its flesh and "sportsmen" who hunt it for fun.

Apart from being threatened by poachers, its existence is also endangered by the pollution of its waters as well as overfishing, which threatens its food supply. There are slightly less than 2,000 of these left in India and the world, with 200 of them being killed or dying from pollution and starvation every year.

This swift depletion of their numbers is especially dangerous because they breed so slowly. Like humans, a single young is born after a nine-month gestation. In three years from now, there may not be enough Gangetic Dolphins left to regenerate the species.

The dolphin's position in the river is like that of the tiger in the jungle. It is the key species and shows the health of all the others and of the water itself. When it dies out, we are in trouble, because the water will be undrinkable and the fish would have gone.

What can individuals do about the matter? There is only one protected area specially notified to protect the Gangetic Dolphin: The Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary at Bhagalpur in Bihar. Write to the environment minister to make this sanctuary in Bhagalpur functional. You can ask for a rehabilitation centre to be set up in the sanctuary itself, so that regeneration can take place and ill or injured dolphins can be treated. You must also demand that factories on the side of the Ganges be regulated and those which are throwing their untreated chemical waste into the water be shut. If you care about conserving this valuable animal for yourself and your children, you need to demonstrate your concern. Instead of sitting idle, use your power of protest — write to the media, write to the concerned officials and get others to do the same. Otherwise we will lose this animal just as we lost the cheetah before it.

To join the animal welfare movement contact,

Updated Date: Aug 01, 2017 16:59 PM

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