A Bengal monitor basks in the warm rays of the sun in this photo by Dr. A.K Mukherjee. Monitor lizards of its kind need to rekindle their body temperature, that drops during the night, before commencing their day activities

The Bengal Monitor Lizard.

Visitors often fail to spot this little critter scurrying along the forest floor, when scouring tree tops for birds at the Keoldeao National Park in Rajasthan, India. A respite the Bengal monitor doesn’t seem to mind.

Being born with a forked tongue and layers of rolling fat doesn’t help much when you share the planet with a dominant species that think you are either some sort of evil incarnate that brings bad luck or an exotic delicacy. The Bengal monitor, however, is a skilled survivor and has endured the earth longer than humans. Scientists think this reptilian species (belonging to the Varanoidae family of carnivore lizards that include the water monitor and the giant Komodo dragon found in Indonesia) pre-dates the dinosaurs that ruled the earth some 250 million years ago.

Studying the breathing pattern of monitor lizards, a report published in Livesceince.com, a science journal, pushed their origin back to 270 million B.C. – before the mass level extinction of the Permian–Triassic period changed the earth.

Evolution scaled down their size and made them more adaptable to the new environment but left them vulnerable to greater predation, specially when early humans appeared and mistook them for poisonous hybrids – that would come about if a snake was to mate with a lizard. Names like Goshaap (West Bengal, India) possibly dates back to the first encounters between humans and monitors. In certain tribes, where the monitor was seen as symbol of bad luck, children were encouraged to dig them out of their burrows and brutally kill them.

The CITES conservation act prohibited the trade of Bengal monitors in 1975. But the law has been repeatedly violated and in present times, the reptile continues to be poached for its skin and succulent meat across South Asia. In 2011 Thai custom officials confiscated a catch of 1,800 Bengal Monitors bound for China.

Although monitors and snakes share the same ancestor, they are two separate groups. Understanding the shy and elusive creatures is the first step to helping them from becoming endangered.


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