India reveals massive illegal online trade in endangered Monitor lizards

India reveals massive illegal online trade in endangered Monitor lizards
Wednesday, 21 June, 2017
New Delhi, India

Yet another bizarre online trade in animal parts was revealed today, as Indian investigators announced they had uncovered massive evidence of the trade in endangered monitor lizards for their unusual “forked” penises.

Hatha Jodi, are touted as a ‘rare root’ and powerful charm by occult practitioners in India. They are sold openly on main mainstream e-commerce websites.

“What we have here”, said Rikkert Reijnen, Wildlife Crime Programme Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), “is another example of how quickly unscrupulous individuals can create a market by duping consumers into believing that some item or another will bring fortune or good luck – in the process creating a market and laying waste to one of the world’s most endangered species”.

A year-long undercover investigation by IFAW’s international partner Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) in association with the Indian government’s Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) has revealed that the trade in this banned wildlife product is rampant across the country and internationally.

Hatha Jodi, is promoted as a “rare plant root” and is sold openly on prominent e-commerce websites in India. Investigators also found several websites that had been set up with the express purpose of peddling this item, some of them providing intricate descriptions of rituals required to derive the maximum benefit from its use.

“The truth finding investigation of Hatha Jodi was an interesting and eye-opening task for our team,’ said Jose Louies, Chief of the Enforcement Division for IFAW-WTI.

“Our suspicions were initially raised while we were investigating pangolin trade. A major systematic operation with officials of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) then revealed the extent of the problem. The challenge now is to persuade hundreds of thousands of believers to understand that the mythical and magical Hatha Jodi is nothing but the reproductive organ of a lizard. Our major success will be getting the product banned from the e-commerce sites which are used as the main platform for trade,” said Louies.

The Hatha Jodi ‘root’ is the bifurcated penis (also known as a hemipenis) of the monitor lizard (Varanus sp.), which is protected under Schedule I of the Indian Wild Life (Protection) Act of 1972 and listed on Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prohibits the import or export of the animal or its body parts.

“We are shocked by the extent to which these traders can go to defraud unsuspecting customers by selling an illegal animal derivative that the Indian and international wildlife laws give the highest protection to,” said Mrs Tilotama Varma IPS,  Additional Director WCCB.  “We are in touch with state forest departments and will not hesitate to take action against the international online retailers and traders in this illegal trade apart from the e-commerce platforms of private individuals who are acting as a conduit for these illegal sales”.

The Hatha Jodi investigation was conducted both on and offline with investigators following online sellers to physical locations to examine the products. Four major traders are arrested so far and more are expected in the coming days. Louies said the sellers in most cases were aware of the product’s origins, telling the undercover agent to be careful about transporting it outside India while suggesting ways in which this could be managed.

About IFAW

Founded in 1969, IFAW rescues and protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Photos are available at www.ifawimages.com

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Christina Pretorius, IFAW Southern Africa
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Jose Louies, Chief–Wildlife Crime Control Division, Wildlife Trust of India
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