PETALING JAYA, Malaysia - The extremely rare earless monitor lizard, which is native to Borneo, is now the latest target of the illegal wildlife trade, warned Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network.
Lanthanotus borneensis is not well known as it is a burrowing animal that is only active at night.
"For zoologists and conservationists working in Asia, the earless monitor lizard is truly a mythical creature and something we have read about in classical scientific literature.
"The last detailed observations were made on lizards caught in either Sabah or Sarawak from the 1960s," wrote Dr Vincent Nijman, a professor of anthropology at Oxford Brookes University in a recent Traffic investigative report on illegal wildlife trade.
Earless monitor lizards are around 20cm in length, have reduced eyes and limbs, and is perfectly capable of hearing despite its apparent lack of earlobes. It generally feeds on earthworms and similar prey.
This species is very rare to the extent that most known specimens are preserved, though these too are rare.
The earless monitor lizard is interesting to scientists studying evolution as it serves as a reference for those studying the link between varanid (water monitor lizard, for example) and helodermatid lizards (the Gila Monster).
Traffic noted that international trade of the earless monitor lizard had increased over the last two years, with deals negotiated mainly online since 2013.
"Specific instances mentioning the species were documented on forums and social networking sites in Japan, Ukraine, France, Germany and the Czech Republic.
"Currently, this is the only species in the monitor lizard family that is not protected from over exploitation under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora," Traffic said in its report.