Who wouldn't want their own tiny Godzilla? Even if it is illegal and comes from a stock captured monstrously from the wild and transported hundreds of miles, where most likely not all of its comrades survived the journey. It is often the unusual, rare and exotic that capture the attention of wildlife collectors, and the more unusual, rare and exotic the better. The earless monitor lizard certainly fits the bill; With piercing blue eyes and lack of visible ears, endemic to the island of Borneo, it is so distinct that it is the only species in it's taxonomic family, Lanthanotidae.
- LIVE SPECIMENS - Captured for the pet trade in Europe and Japan
Earless monitor lizard
I'm sure the majority of us, knowing the facts, wouldn't want to trade these animals but nevertheless, some reptile collectors just had to have one for their own when the tiny monitor lizard started showing up in reptile forums in 2012, what followed was a huge spike in illegal harvesting.
These events coincided with the increased worldwide demand for palm oil, which has led deforestation and destruction of habitats in Indonesia and Malaysia. It drove these creatures out of their usual underground and nocturnal habitats and onto rice fields and plantations.
As usual, Wildlife traders rejoice in the 'grey area' of the law. Selling earless monitors in Europe is not illegal, and was easily found by a Guardian investigator at the world's biggest reptile fair Terraristika in Hamm, Germany in 2015. However, taking them from their own wild lands is illegal. The species holds national protection and some serious jail time for traders in Malaysia (since 1971, a USD 7'850 fine and three years' imprisonment), in Brunei Darussalam (since 1978, USD 1'600 fine and one years' imprisonment) and in Indonesia (since 1980, USD 8'600 fine and five years' imprisonment). But when the profit margins are there, these sentences act little as a deterrent.
“Those animals were like the holy grail for many years because no one believed they really existed,” -One seller said to a Guardian investigator.
Of course, traders often deny that their specimens are collected from the wild and insist they are bred in captivity for commercial sale as pets. This would be legal but, captive breeding is difficult and not possible for all species, international experts doubt it would be viable for the earless monitor lizard. Although some captive breeding has been reported in Indonesia, and in its preferred habitat, it could spell more trouble as wild caught individuals are laundered through captive breeding stock.
“All the specimens available outside Borneo have been illegally obtained and brought there,” Mark Auliya, the co-chair of the IUCN’s monitor lizard specialist group.
Even if claims of captive breeding are true, the parent stock will have been illegally obtained, and new blood is always required to keep the gene pool fresh.
Good news for the species, as of September 2016, the earless monitor lizard received international protection under Appendix II listing of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meaning trade is closely controlled and is not allowed without a CITES export permit.
Although some collectors argue that because the earless monitor holds no IUCN red listing that it is not endangered and safe to trade. This is not true, it simply means that there has not been enough biological study on these guys, their habitats, distribution and how well they adapt to harvesting. In the words of Movie scientist Dr Kyohei Yamane " Godzilla should not be destroyed, he should be studied!"