Friday, October 19, 2012

Lizards In Traditional Medicines in India

Gekko gecko in a Malaysian market. JCM

There are about 5729 lizard species in the world, and in many cultures saurians are believed to have medicinal properties and their skins are frequently used in the novelty leather industry. Subtamanean and Reddy (2012) discuss the use of the common monitor lizard and the Tokay gecko as examples of species frequently exploited by humans on the Indian subcontinent.  In India, products derived from Varanus bengalensis  are used to treat a variety of ailments, including hemorrhoids, rheumatism, body pain and burns, as well as spider and snake bites. It is also used as a cure for arthritis. The fat and meat of this lizard work like the hormone testosterone and hence these are considered a delicacy and an aphrodisiac in South India. The meat is also believed to be effective in curing the tension that sets into the muscles controlling breathing due to lack of oxygen. The powdered meat is capable of building up resistance and is believed to mitigate rise in blood sugar. It is used in energy tonics for blood and lungs to relieve asthma and cough.  The skin of Varanus bengalensis is highly priced and is used widely in the manufacture of leather goods. During a survey in the winter of 2010 in northern Tamil Nadu, Bengal monitors were recorded in several places across a variety of habitats, suggesting a stable population. However, they are caught and killed mercilessly, and there is an illegal flesh trade of these reptiles in northern Tamil Nadu, which has led to them becoming endangered. Thus catching monitor lizards is banned under the Wildlife Protection Act (1972).   Surprisingly, V. bengalensis has been assessed as a species eliciting least concern by the IUCN Red List Category. Though it is listed as safe now, further research and monitoring of this species is needed to ensure that a threat category is not triggered in the future. The establishment and management of new protected areas where this species can be protected from hunting is needed to provide refuge sites from persecution. The Tokay gecko, Gekko gecko is much sought after in the pet trade. But recently there has been an increase in demand for its flesh, especially of the tongue, due to the belief that it is a cure for AIDS. Its carcass is dried and ground into powder for consumption.  After reports that the consumption of the Tokay geckos’ tongue and internal organs cure HIV, the demand for these geckos increased. It has also been used extensively for cures for impotence and illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, skin disease and cancer The demand has continued despite the World Health Organization's position that there is no cure for AIDS at present. 

Subramanean, J & Reddy, MV. 2012. Monitor lizards and geckos used in traditional medicine face extinction and need protection Current Science (Bangalore) 102, (9)1248-1249.

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