Karoo Armadillo lizards threatened as they become pets in Japan

The growing international illegal reptile pet trade is becoming a threat to the lizard’s existence.

The Armadillo girdled lizard is endemic to the mountains and rocky hills of the succulent Karoo veld of western South Africa, from the Orange River southwards to north of Porterville and eastwards to the west of Laingsburg, reports Alberton Record.

Its scientific name, Ouroborus cataphractus, is derived from its habit of rolling into a ball and biting its tail like the mythical Ouroboros found in most ancient cultures.

The Armadillo girdled lizard does this to protect its soft underbelly when it feels threatened. The ouroboros eats its own tail as a symbol of sustaining life in an eternal cycle of renewal.

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Armadillo girdled lizards can stay in their defensive ouroboros position for up to an hour when they are in danger and cannot reach a crevice or rock crack to hide in.

The vulnerable Armadillo girdled lizard

These relatively slow-moving, rock-dwelling lizards are very shy and quick to hide when approached. They shelter in the holes and crevices of rock formations. They favour rocky areas as close as possible to termite mounds, as termites are an important food source. They often have to travel distances of between four and twenty meters to termite mounds which makes them vulnerable to poachers.

Social animals that give live birth

They are social animals and form family groups of up to 60 individuals in one crevice. Once a year in autumn, the female gives live birth to one or two babies. It is one of the few lizards that does not lay eggs.

They can reach an average total length of about 150-200 mm.

Heavy fines or jail time for Japanese poachers

In May 2018, a Japanese man faced a sentence of a R1 million fine or 13 years’ imprisonment for the illegal possession and transport of 48 Armadillo girdled lizards, Cape Times reported.

Koji Ikoma, who was arrested on November 24, 2017, after a high-speed car chase with police, admitted to poaching and possessing the reptiles. He was planning on selling them in Japan where they are highly sought after as pets. During the pursuit, he threw a cooler bag containing the reptiles out of his car window.

Another Japanese man, Takashi Handa, was sentenced to a R300,000 fine or six years’ imprisonment for collecting and possessing Armadillo girdled lizards without permits. He was arrested while collecting the lizards in the veld.

Teamwork by CapeNature Conservation Services, the Biodiversity Crime Unit, the Nuwerus, Lutzville and Malmesbury police officers of the Stock Theft and Endangered Species Unit, and the Organised Crime office of the National Prosecuting Authority made these substantial convictions possible.

Threatened by the international illegal reptile pet trade

Because they live in family groups and are relatively easy to catch, the international illegal reptile pet trade is a growing threat.

The species is protected under the Nature Conservation Ordinance of the Western Cape Province and is on Schedule II of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

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