By Megan Gannon
Coveted by exotic pet dealers and handbag-makers, colorful monitor lizards in Southeast Asia may be facing more serious conservation threats than thought, researchers say.
Monitor lizards are a group of strong-bodied, intelligent mostly carnivorous reptiles, including the fearsome Komodo dragon, the world's largest living lizard, which can grow to a length of 10 feet (3 meters).
They are most diverse in Southeast Asia and New Guinea, and despite their size, several monitor lizard species have eluded scientists until only recently in the region. In 2010, for example, scientists discovered three new species in the Philippines, including the gold-flecked, roughly 6-foot-long (1.8-meter) Varanus bitatawa.
Some laws are in place to protect the dragon-like creatures from unsustainable hunting and harvesting for the exotic pet trade. But a new study warns that dealers may be overexploiting the reptiles, taking advantage of the scant information conservations have on many of these species in the wild.
In a report in the journal Herpetological Conservation and Biology, researchers assessed the distribution, threats and conservation status of species of monitor lizards that live in Southeast Asia and New Guinea. More....