Monitor lizard penises from India being sold as rare plant roots with magical properties | health | Hindustan Times
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Monitor lizard penises from India being sold as rare plant roots with magical properties

Penises of monitor lizards that are a protected species in India are being illegally procured and sold as Hatha Jodi, a rare plant part believed to have magical properties.

health Updated: Jun 21, 2017 17:01 IST
Dried monitor lizard penises passed off as Hatha Jodi.
Dried monitor lizard penises passed off as Hatha Jodi.(Courtesy: Aniruddha Mookerje/ WildCRU)

New Delhi: “Hatha Jodi is a wonder of nature, in which two hands are joined together, as in a prayer. This is actually rooted of a very rare plant in the shape of folded hands,” says a product description on Amazon.com’s India website. “It is very useful in winning favors (sic) or winning trials.”

They may resemble joined arms but investigations by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) and London-based World Animal Protection (WAP), says that many of the products being sold as the wondrous Hatha Jodi are actually dried Giant Monitor lizard penises.

It is not just Amazon, the investigations found, other major retailers like Ebay, Alibaba, Snapdeal and Etsy may also be peddling illegally obtained lizard parts. The parts are being sourced from states like Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Karnataka, where the lizards are also eaten by some tribal communities. They reach markets across the country not just through online retailers but also dealers who supply them to local shops.

“There is no such thing as Hatha Jodi,” Jose Louies, head of enforcement assistance and law, Wildlife Trust of India , said, “It is only a code word for illegal monitor lizard parts.”

Four kinds of monitor lizards are found in India and all of them are Schedule I species under India’s Wildlife Protection Act 1972, which makes it an offence to conduct trade in the lizards or any of its body parts.

The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau has been conducting raids on sellers for the past two weeks and 7 such seizures have taken place, according Tilottama Verma who heads the WCCB, said.  Even though the raids were successful Verma said that the worrying thing was that the trade was still ongoing. “We might have touched less than 1% of the trade in the parts,” she said.

A Yelow Monitor lizard. (Courtesy: Neil D’Cruze/ World Animal Protection)

“We were shocked at the sheer audacity and scale of this illegal wildlife trade. Deceitful dealers claiming to sell holy plant root labelled as “Hatha Jodi”, are in fact peddling dried lizard penis to their unwitting customers,” Neil D’Cruze, lead scientist at WAP, said in a statement. “These illegal items are readily available in the UK and USA with potential street value of £50,000 GBP.”

Aniruddha Mookerjee, a wildlife conservationist who is currently affiliated with the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit , has researched the trade. Mookherjee stumbled upon the trade about a year and a half ago while doing research in central India. He noticed that tribal communities that eat lizard flesh to sustain themselves were leaving aside the hemipenis of the animal. On being questioned the researchers were told it was Hatha Jodi.

A google search revealed how widely it was being used not just in India but also by Indian diaspora in abroad. Mookherjee bought five such samples from online retailers and had them tested at labs in the U.K. and in India. The tests revealed that of the five, two were made of plastic and the other three were monitor lizard sex organs.

In some cases, the removal of the genitals begins before the animal is dead, according to WAP. “Monitor lizards enjoy the same protection status in India as tigers and rhinos,” Mookherjee said, “but that is only on paper.”

The raids conducted by the WCCB and Wildlife Trust of India led to the recovery of 210 Hatha Jodi, including the hemipenis of Bengal and Yellow Monitor Lizards from a Bhubaneshwar residence. Raids have also taken place in Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan. On Wednesday sellers in Noida were raided.

“The product is freely available online and in shops across every major Hindu pilgrimage site in India,” Mookerjee said.