KARACHI: Around 150 spiny-tailed lizards (local name Sandha) were confiscated by the wildlife staff in separate raids on two mountainous areas in Thatta district on Friday.

Ten lizards were found dead while others had broken backs.

“We have caught six men while they were busy catching the lizards. The surviving species were found in poor condition as their backs were broken,” said Wajid Sheikh, heading the Hyderabad division wildlife party that raided two places in the mountainous terrain of Thatta district.

“Three men were caught from Jannat Makan located about 17km away from the Superhighway and others from Dal Tarai Goth. They were using fire and smoke to drive the lizards out of their holes,” he explained, adding that the staff also seized dry fodder and equipment from the spot.

Sharing details of the investigation, he said that the suspects had identified themselves as Sudhir, Imran, Mohammad Ali, Shamoo, Parmu and Dharamji, all residents of Shora village of Thatta district.

“They have been in the business for eight years and turn to hunting lizards only during and after the monsoon period as these reptiles come out of their holes. They claimed that the catch is sold to some dealers in Karachi for Rs1,000 to Rs1,500 per lizard,” he said.

The desert lizards were kept alive but their backs were broken to prevent their escape, he added.

“We will try that they rehabilitate and are released into the wild. A vet would examine them next week to see if they could return to their habitat,” he said.

Replying to a question about the punishment to the offenders, he said that they would be fined Rs15,000 under the law, but if they couldn’t submit the fine, the case would be transferred to the court.

The suspects are being kept at a Hyderabad police station.

It is worth mentioning that the present wildlife law, the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1972, doesn’t deal with animal cruelty during illegal capture, transportation and confinement. Besides, critics say, there is a dire need to enhance the amount of fine to discourage the increasing trend of wildlife trade.

An updated wildlife law with specific clauses on animal cruelty and enhanced fine and punishment for wildlife offenders has been awaiting government approval for the past four years.

About the habitat of spiny-tailed lizards, Dr Hafeez-ur-Rehman, former senior wildlife preservation officer and one of the few herpetologists in Pakistan, said that two species of spiny-tailed lizards were found in Pakistan.

“The Uromastyx hardwickii (local name Sandha) is found in desert areas all over Pakistan while the Uromastyx asmussi is extremely rare. The highly endangered species was first reported in Naukandi, Balochistan, by the British a century ago.

“They found about 100 of these lizards at that time. We, however, found only one 15 years ago in Kharan,” he said.

According to Dr Rehman, spiny-tailed lizards are widely hunted locally for their fat which is said to have aphrodisiac properties. The lizards are also eaten by poor villagers as well as rich Arab sheikhs.

“I came to know this during my field work in Balochistan. The other major threat to the herbivorous lizard is their use in educational institutions to make students learn dissection methods,” he said.

There was no scientific evidence to show that the lizards had aphrodisiac qualities, he added.

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2015

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