Natural History and it’s unsolved mysteries

India’s Endangered Monitor Lizards -


Rupam Barua

India has a rich variety of lizards, a species belonging to the family of reptiles that is believed
to have originated on the earth about 300 to 260 million years ago. In fact, the present-day
lizards remind us of the gigantic dinosaurs, meaning ‘terrible lizards’ in Greek, that ruled the
earth during the Mesozoic era of the pre – historic times. Many of the modern lizards look
like miniature forms or tiny replicas of the giants of the past such as Brontosuars,
Diplodorus, Tyranosouraus rex etc. According to animal scientists, lizards, which falls under
the reptilian order Squamata’ meaning ‘scaly creatures’ in Latin, are one of the best known
and most widely distributed species of all modern reptiles. In India, they have a wide range
of habitats from desert to evergreen forested areas and up to a level of about 5000m in the
Himalayas. Though very closely related to the snakes, there is hardly any poisonous lizard in
Like all reptiles, lizards are cold – blooded animals and lay eggs. Though they feed generally
on insects, fishes and bird’ eggs, some are in the habit of eating small mammals and herbs
also. To defend themselves from enemies, they usually run away to a safer place, be it on
ground or in the water. Sometimes they are seen to burrow underground for the purpose of
self – defence. India has a variety of lizards numbering not less than 150. But it is a matter of
great concern that mainly due to the exploitation of their beautiful skins for commercial
purposes, many of the Indian lizards are on the verge of extinction today. Among the Indian
Lizards, especially the genus ‘Varanus’ or the Monitor Lizards are considered to be
There are four kinds of Monitor Lizards in India which are facing severe depletion on
account of the skin trade. Foremost among them is the species called Water Monitor
(Varanus Salvator) which is the second largest of all the Monitor Lizards in the world. The
largest Monitor Lizard ‘Komodo Dragon’ is found in Indonesia Islands. More aquatic in its
habits than the other species, the Water Monitor Lizard is about 3m in length with a skin of
dark olive colour, spotted with yellow. As it is being killed indiscriminately for its attractive
skin, this creature is protected under Schedule -1 of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of
1972. The Water Monitor is omnivorous in food habit and its common habitats are wet and
marshy areas, river banks, etc. This lizard can be seen throughout India.
Another important Monitor Lizard facing the threat of depletion is the Common Indian
Monitor (Varanus Bengalensis). As the name suggests it is found everywhere in India in
almost all kinds of habitats. Ash black in colour, it has a length of about 175 cm with an
exceptionally long and bifid tongue. It appears to be equally at home in the plains and in the
hills up to 6000 ft. and generally feeds on insects, fish, crabs, small animals, ground birds
and their eggs. This monitor has also been extensively killed for its skin and flesh which has
caused threats to its existence.
Yellow Monitor (Veranus Flavescens) is also facing alarming depletion of its population
because of its beautiful skin of brilliant colour. Found in almost all the regions of northern
India, this lizard has a long and strongly compressed tail with its skin of dark brown colour
and reddish tinge. Thoroughly at home both on ground and in water, it is an eater of fresh
water crabs and small fish.
Basically, brown coloured, the Indian Desert Monitor (Varanus Griseus) inhabits the dry
regions of north – west India. It lives in burrows and its food includes insects and small
vertebrates. The skin has depleted its population.
Though equipped with strong, sharp teeth and powerful claws, by temperament these
monitors are rather timid. When cornered, a Monitor Lizard generally inflates its body with
air and expels it with loud hiss, at the same time lashing furiously with its tail.
Monitor Lizards, like other reptiles, play a very useful role in our environment. Earlier,
people thought of them as ugly and dangerous creatures and as poisonous as snakes. But
happily, this attitude is slowly changing and earnest efforts are now being made both by the
government and various nature organisations, NGOs etc to protect and study these
threatened and endangered creatures. It is hoped that such efforts would soon be able to
create countrywide popular awareness and enlighten public opinion which have become
extremely necessary at this moment for the safe existence of the vanishing species like
Indian Monitor Lizards.