Scientists Discover Two New Lizard Species in Philippine Black Market

Posted on January 15, 2015

Scientists have discovered two new lizard species. The monitor lizards were being sold in a black market in Manila, Philippines. The lizards have been named Varanus dalubhasa and Varanus bangonorum.

Rafe Brown, curator-in-charge of the herpetology division at the University of Kansas' Biodiversity Institute, says in a statement, "The operations involve everything from sea turtles, to ivory, to tiger parts and rhino horns. These involve private individuals, pet store owners, politicians, zookeepers and corrupt government officials. Many animals are sold as pets and 'captive breeding' stock and zoo specimens. Many are sold as food, many are slaughtered and sold as parts for 'medicinal' purposes and aphrodisiacs, and many are huge, high-stakes status symbols for the wealthy elite -- such as tigers, monkeys and Komodo dragons."

Brown is pictured below holding the holotype of the new species, Varanus bangonorum. He says he found that many of the pet markets and roadside bush-meat stands kept secret or illegal animals in a back room. Here the researchers found genetic varieties of water monitor lizards that varied sharply from those common to the areas surrounding Manila. Brown and his colleagues sequenced the mitochondrial and nuclear DNA of the lizards and found they were "morphologically cryptic." The monitor lizards resemble known species of monitors but are a unique species based on their genetic variation.

A research paper on the new species was published in Zootaxa. A research paper on the black market pet and bush-meat trade was published in Biological Conservation. The researchers are also working on a film documentary about their discovery. The researchers say much of the illegal trade has moved online.

Brown says, "Whereas two years ago, deals were frequently made in the back alleys of streets of Manila, most are now made online, using the most rapidly growing scourge of wildlife protection -- Facebook. Today, Facebook is the primary means with which unscrupulous individuals deal in wares of illegally harvested wild animals."

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