|[Note Guidelines] Photographer's Note|
|This shot taken at Tal Chhapar Black-buck Sanctuary.|
Scientific name: Varanus bengalensis (Daudin, 1758)
Common Indian Monitor
English - Common Indian Monitor.
Measurements: Head and body length 72-75 cm; tail 100 cm.
Diagnostic characters: A medium-sized, dark brown or olive brown or olive brown monitor, with acute, long, and compressed teeth. Snout convex terminally, its length from two to two and a half times its height. Scales on crown of head much larger than nuchal scales and rounded and keeled posteriorly; supraocular scales small and sub equal; mid-body scales 132-176 and abdominal scales in 90-100 transverse rows. Digits elongate. Tail long and strongly compressed, with a double-toothed crest above. Lateral caudal scales keeled and smaller than subcaudals. Tongue very long, forked and protractible. Body dark brownish or olive brown above, usually with blackish dots; underpants yellowish or spotted with black; spots numerous on throat.
Intraspefic variation: Out of two subspecies, the nominate sub-species occurs in India and differs from v. b. nebulosus in mid-body scales (132-176 vs 70-90) and dark brown vs grayish body colour (Cogger 1979, Mertens 1942).
Range: The common Indian Monitor is quite predominant amongst the Asiatic monitor species. It occurs throughout the India subcontinent including Western Ghats (Smith 1935, Murthy 1978, 1985, Tikader 1983 and Auffenberg 1986). There are specimens in the collections of the Zoological Survey of India from Bigrani, Western Himalayas and Darjeeling in the Eastern Himalayas. The species is also reported from the Great Nicobar Island (Biswas & Sanyal 1977).
Extralimitally, the species is distributed in Sri Lanka, the greater part of Bruma as far south as lat. 17°13 N; Nepal; Bangladesh; South-East Iran; Afghanistan; Pakistan and Southeastern Uzbekistan (Smith 1935, Mertens 1942, Cogger 1979, Tikader 1983, Murthy 1985 and Auffenberg 1986).
Population: Exact figure of the wild population of this species is not known. Daniel (1970) and Dharmakumarsinghji (1978) mentioned alarming decrease in the population of Varanus bengalensis in northwestern India.
One specimen has been reported to breed in captive condition in the Honolulu Zoo in 1981 (Cogger 1979).
Habits and Ecology: The common Indian Monitor is mostly diurnal in habit. It is found in a wide range of habitats, viz. forest, desert, river banks, by the side of mullah, marshy land, tidal creeks and even the sea coast. It occupies burrows, dense vegetation, hollows of trees, cracks and crevices. It is graceful in its movements and is a good climber, runner, fighter and swimmer (Murthy 1978 and Tikader 1983). In Bangladesh, the species is more commonly found on the high ground often around human habitation (Whitaker 1981). Though basically an animal of the plans, it is also found in the mountains up to 2,000 meters alt and from dry scrub to thick rain forest areas. The monitor is reported to be particularly partial to the drier parts of Burma, being found both in remote forests as well as on the outskirts of villages (Smith 1930). Monitors are carnivorous and feed mainly on terrestrial vertebrates preferring brides and their eggs, rats, frogs, fish and rotten flesh; also feed on crabs, arthropods and coleopterans (Smith 1930, Murthy 1978, Auffenberg 1979, Tikader 1983). They do not normally chew or crush their food but swallow it whole or in large chunks. Whitaker (1981) reports that in Madras rodents constitute 60% of its total gut contents. The combat, agonistic and courtship behaviour, seasonal testicular changes and female reproductive cycle have been studies in detail (Auffenberg 1989b, 1980, 1983, Upadhyay and Gukaya, 1972, Burhardt 1957, Jacob and Ram swami 1976).
The common monitor is oviparous and from 10 to 20 eggs is laid in holes on secluded piles of rocks and debris between July and October (Whitaker 1981). However, Burhardt (1957) and Tikader (1983) mention from 19 to 30 eggs in a clutch. Eggs containing fully developed embryos of this monitor were collected in the end of March from the Mega pod mound in Great Microbar of the Andaman and Nicobar group of Islands (Biswas and Sanyal 1977). In central India (Madhya Pradesh), of this lizard are reported to have been deposited during September and the eggs measured approximately 25 x 45 mm in size (d’ Abreu, 1932). Vijaya (1981) is of opinion that the Common Indian Monitor lays eggs in termite mounds in the Guindy Forest area, Madras during July.
Scientific interest and potential value: Well planned co-ordinated and comprehensive research in collaboration with the Wildlife Institute of India on the status and biocenology of this endangered reptile has got considerable scientific interest in view of effective conservation and management needed. The lizard and its products are of great commercial importance in the international market.
Commercial use: The skin of Varanus bengalensis is highly prized and largely used in the manufacture of leather goods including articles of apparel and household use such as hand bags, wallets, shoes, watch-straps, (Bhanotar et al. 1974, Murthy 1978, 1988, Smith 1930, Tikader 1983, Whitaker 1981), and scabbards for kukris (Das 1988). Its eggs are considered a delicacy and the entire animal is also eaten (Murthy 1978, 1988, Smith 1930 and Das 1989); oil extracted from fat is used in the treatment of failing eye-sight (Murthy 1986) and in cooking (Auffenberg 1986). Das (1989) remarks “ Unani, the Greco-Arabian system of medicine which is part of the Indian material – medical recommends the use of various body parts of monitors to cure numerous ailments”. The flesh of freshly killed Indian monitor causes healing in case of thorn pricks and bites of poisonous animals (Hussein 1771, Khan 1911, Vohora and Khan 1979), besides curing tuberculosis, skin problems and sexual debility (Nadkarni 1954; Vohora and Khan 1979). Monitor fat is an aphrodisiac and the excretion used in the treatment of eye and skin diseases (Hussain 1771, Khan 1911 and Vohora & Khan 1979). Traveling hakims in India also exhibit a verity of drugs and tonics derived from these animal sources (Das 1989).
Trade data: A correct statistical record of production of fancy reptilian skins, especially of the Indian monitors, in different states of India is not readily available, but is was estimated that in 1932 about 12,000,000 animals including reptiles were killed for the sake of their hides and skins”.(Bhanotar et al.1974). In 1932, India exported two and a half million reptile skins and in 1933 about two and three quarter million. In September, 1932, over 600,000 skins chiefly of monitor lizards were shipped form Calcutta port alone. In 1955, the export figure of reptilian skins both raw and tanned to overseas market eg. Europe and America reached an enormous figure. In 1955, 12, 71,000 skins were exported to France; Holland received 5, 19,000, New York 14, 38,000 whereas U. K. 6, 63,000 skins. The exported value of this trade is fairly high and India earned good sum of money in the shape of foreign exchange to the tune of two crores.
An estimated 60 million worth of skin is smuggled out of the country every year. At present there are 15 million snake skins and 2,000,000 lizard skins in Madras city alone. Inskipp (1981) reported that despite laws protecting the Indian monitors, fairly large numbers are hunted for the leather trade in India. He further mentioned that in December 1979, dealers in Calcutta held over 3 million lizard skins in their stock, over 50% of these were of Varanus flavescens and an equal number of Varanus bengalensis and Varanus griseus. Whitaker (1981) and Khan (1989) commented that during 1978-79 nearly 2,000,000 monitor lizards skins were exported from Bangladesh to Japan for handbags, wallets, shoes and watch straps, of these about 25% was of the common Indian monitor. In June 1990, more than 17000 monitor skins were seized in Calcutta, which was being illegally sent outside.
Threats to survival: The population of the Common Indian Monitor, Varanus bengalensis has alarmingly dwindled throughout the Indian sub-continent mainly due to excessive exploitation of the adults for their commercially valuable skins, as food and in traditional medicines. Habitat loss due to large-scale deforestation, urbanization, dams and hydroelecture projects and other biotic factors are also responsible for the population decline of the species.
Conservation measures taken: The species has been declared projected under Schedule I of the Wild Life (Protection) Act. The IUCN has also considered the species endangered and listed in Appendix I. It is also listed in Appendix I of CITES according to which any international trade in the species and its products and any sort of commercial exploitation is strictly prohibited. The species gets protection in conservation areas falling within its distributional range.
Conservation measures suggested: Legislation must be enforced more strictly all over the range of distribution of the species for effective protection and conservation. Thailand and Japan must be convinced to withdraw their reservations and allow their monitor populations to be covered by Appendix I of CITES. There should be international co-ordination in starting suitable conservation programmes for the species. People should be educated all over the world in conservation methods to evoke public awareness in order to protect the monitors.
Captive breeding: Very little information on captive breeding of Varanus bengalensis has been reported. One specimen has, so far been reported to breed in Honolulu Zoo in 1980. (Jenkins 1986).
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