The “highly endangered” species of Indian Monitor Lizard, commonly known as ‘Udumu’ in Telugu, which has been declared as Schedule I animal under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, is facing a serious threat from poachers in the Seshachalam Hills spread over Chittoor and Kadapa districts.
The poachers have intensified their operations in the recent years as the species commands “high aphrodisiac value” not only in India but predominantly in South East Asian countries.
Though the species is categorised as Schedule I animal, very few people know about it, say Tirupati wildlife officials.
They were spotted in large numbers in the forest fringe villages till a decade ago. Gradually, their numbers have started declining. Their habitat too has moved deep inside the forest.
Going by its nature, the lizard survives best in thick forests and inferior shrub jungles away from human intervention.
Three months ago, two youths from Tamil Nadu killed a monitor lizard in the forest abutting Srivarimettu, 20 km from Tirupati.
A monitor lizard was moving close to the footpath leading to Tirumala. Chased by the youths, it climbed a tamarind tree. One of the youths too climbed the tree and poked it with a stick. Losing grip, it fell down, but was fatally attacked by the other youth waiting under the tree.
When they were trying to carry the lizard away, information reached the forest officials, who promptly nabbed them and seized its carcass.
On interrogation, officials noted the threat perception surrounding these endangered species.
It’s tongue and liver are a rage in restaurants in Malaysia, where the affluent shell down huge money for its purported aphrodisiac properties.
Badly hit by staff crunch, wildlife officials of Chittoor and Kadapa districts have hardly concentrated on the fate of the monitor lizards and their smuggling destinations.
Apart from the Seshachalam ranges, monitor lizards are also fast disappearing from the forests of Puttur and Satyavedu in Chittoor district.
Some traditional small-time hunters in the hamlets abutting the Nagari hills, Kambakam forest, charge Rs.5,000 per lizard. They are even paid advance by parties from Chennai.
People of Musilipedu at the foot of Battinayyakona hill say that till a decade ago, the monitor lizard used to move about in the bushes close to human habitations.
“Now, it is hard to find a single lizard. Hunters are hired to capture the animal in large numbers,” Ravamma, a traditional firewood gatherer, says.
Divisional Forest Officer (Tirupati Wildlife) T.V. Subba Reddy says that in spite of acute staff crunch, the department personnel are acting tough on poachers.
“Our men could catch the hunters in no time at Srivarimettu. In fact, it is very difficult to guard the vast borders of the Seshachalam ranges with the prevailing staff crunch. If the staff position improves, it would act as a deterrent to the movement of poachers in the wild,” he said.
Leopard’s skull sent
for forensic tests
The DFO also said that the forest personnel were successful in detecting the carcass of a full-grown leopard in the upper reaches of Talakona waterfalls, where a hunter killed and buried the animal four months ago.
“The hunter, a native of the Talakona region, arranged a noose expecting a boar or antelope. But seeing the leopard in the noose, he killed it and buried it. Through our information network, we could identify the culprit in no time. We exhumed the carcass and sent the skull for forensic tests in Hyderabad for effective charge-sheeting and prosecution of the accused,” he said.