It’s no secret that the Philippines is home to a variety of wildlife primarily because of its vibrant ecosystem. The tropical forests are home to some of the most unique-looking wild Birds and Reptiles, some of which may only be found in the country.
Monitor Lizards, for instance, can be found in different regions. Some of them are mentioned here.
NORTHERN SIERRA MADRE FOREST MONITOR LIZARD Varanus bitatawa
This Monitor Lizard was discovered in 2010 by biologists from the University of Kansas. They primarily live in the Sierra Madre mountain region and mostly eat fruits — more specifically, the fruit of pandan trees.
The Bitatawa is closely related to Grey’s Monitor Lizard. They can grow up to 2 meters.
In a 2010 article written by Ed Yong for National Geographic, the Monitor Lizard was described as having golden spots on their mostly-black body. It is said that the Bitatawa species primarily lives on top of trees.
ENTENG’S MONITOR LIZARD Varanus dalubhasa
While this Monitor Lizard has no relation to Enteng Kabisote (familiar to those who watched “Okay Ka, Fairy Ko” as kids), they are an endemic species found in parts of Luzon, more specifically in the Bicol region and Polillo Island. Just like the previous Monitor Lizards, they also live mostly in the forests. They grow to lengths of up to 1.1 meters.
Their body is dark grey with yellow spots on the neck, back, and tail, as well as a yellowish-gold strip on the side of the head and nape. Researchers cannot determine their diet, but they observed that the Monitor Lizard consumes invertebrates, small vertebrates, and carcasses.
According to the Reptile Database, their common name comes from Vicente “Enteng” Yngente, a researcher with extensive knowledge of the natural history and ecology of Philippine Reptiles, as a way to honor his contribution to the research and conservation of the species.
PANAY MONITOR LIZARD Varanus mabitang
Just like the Bitatawa, the Panay Monitor Lizard also lives on top of trees and their diet consists primarily of fruits. But, just like their name suggests, they are found in Panay forests. They can grow up to 1.7 meters long and weigh 8 kilograms. These Lizards are considered rare, with only 12 of them having been caught since 2002.
According to the Reptile Database, the name Mabitang has been used by ancient locals to describe the Panay Monitor Lizard. Mabitang means “Big Monitor Lizard” in the Kinarayan dialect.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature recently listed the Panay Monitor Lizard as endangered in 2021 due to deforestation, which eliminates their habitats. They are being hunted for their rarity as well.
Panay Monitor Lizard (Arthur Weasley)
WEIGHING THE SCALES OF ILLEGAL TRADE
While it is illegal to trade wild-caught native Monitor Lizards, an article published by Traffic.org in 2021 showed that more than 500 Monitor Lizards were put up for sale in Facebook groups in the Philippines, with 90% of them being juveniles.
Researchers could not determine if they were caught in the wild or not, which was troubling because
it could mean that there is a potentially illegal harvesting of these animals.
Aside from online trade, there is also concern for laundering Reptiles caught in the wild into legal trade through suspicious exports or under the guise of captive breeding operations.
The research sounds troubling, but Traffic.org urges the government to be vigilant “to prevent the illegal harvesting of local Monitor Lizards.”