- It’s never worth buying miracle cures – you never know what it is or where it came from.
Black markets are a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, they can help people living under oppressive regimes to buy even the basic necessities of life.
On the other, they are often trade routes for illegal or otherwise shady goods. That also means that many times the thing you get is not what you thought you were buying.
And that’s just the case here. In India (and potentially elsewhere in Asia) severed penises of endangered monitor lizards are being sold as “mystical roots” from the Himalayas, Vice reported.
The “root” is known as Hatha Jodi, which translates roughly to “a pair of palms.” The name stems from the appearance of the two-pronged lizard penis.
Unscrupulous traders, mostly would-be astrologers, sell the penis root for $14-$40 a pop. Their target market are superstitious locals, who often anoint their purchase with vermilion and keep it on their home altar.
According to local beliefs, this “miracle plant root” will bring its owner fortune and material wealth. It can supposedly help win lawsuits, and even attract romantic partners.
Of course, the penises don’t do any of that. Even if there was a magic plant with all those powers, these people wouldn’t benefit from it – after all, they unknowingly bought a cut-off lizard dong.
Unfortunately for the monitor lizards, their penises get unwanted attention from more than just magic trinket salesmen. According to Jose Louies, head of the Wildlife Crime Control Division of Wildlife Trust of India, there is a whole poaching industry centered around the endangered lizards.
What penises aren’t sold off as withered roots, are instead peddled off as an aphrodisiac. The poachers either boil them like any other meat, or dry them and grind them into a powder for later consumption.
But it’s not just the lizard sex organs the poachers are after. Every part of the reptiles can be exchanged for money.
The lizard meat is a sought-after delicacy. Many restaurants along Indian highways reportedly purchase this illegal bushmeat at a whopping $20 per pound.
It’s so popular that when the restaurants can’t get the actual meat, they resort to using substitutes. An anonymous informant in the lizard trade told Vice that some eateries sell cooked cattle tails as monitor lizard meat.
It’s a meal of deceit, wrapped in lies, lightly sautéed in trickery, and served with a side dish of animal cruelty.
Blood and Oil
The lizards’ blood – in addition to its other body parts – is sold for its purported medicinal properties. Sellers and buyers claim that it gives sexual virility and enhanced physical strength.
“All fake. Monitor lizards are like other lizards, only bigger in size,” Varad Giri, director of the Indian environmental resource center NIDUS told Vice.
“Their blood and other body parts are like any other reptile. There is nothing in their blood that gives it medicinal properties.”
Finally, there’s the lizard oil. Much like their blood, this oil is claimed to give you strength, sexual endurance, and probably anything else the potential buyer wants to hear it do.
This product, luckily enough, doesn’t actually involve harming the lizards at all. They just don’t produce any kind of oil – the whole thing is a sham from start to finish.
“This oil, a fake, is made by boiling mustard oil with some pain balm or quicklime, which leaves a burning sensation when applied on the skin,” the anonymous informant explained.
To catch the lizards, poachers use traps fashioned out of vehicle break or clutch wires. As a bait, they use waste materials from chickens.
Once a reptile springs the trap, the most gruesome part of the whole process begins. If you’re sensitive to animal abuse, you may want to skip this section.
The poachers use fire or hot implements to scorch the lizard’s groin while it’s still alive. They will then forcibly bend the animal backwards, which ejects the penis that’s normally tucked away in its body cavity.
If the lizard is lucky, the poachers then grant it a mercifully swift death before harvesting its other body parts. Unfortunately, they’re just as likely to tie its limbs behind its back and stuff it into a bag.
The captured lizards are transferred along secret trade routes through India and into foreign markets. Some of them even end up in Western countries, to be sold in pet stores.
“They are predators and they hunt, which is an entertainment for people,” said Louies.
Wrecking the Market
Indian authorities have tried cracking down on the lizard trade. After all, they enjoy the same protection laws as elephants, tigers, and more famous endangered animals.
Louies himself carried out an investigation into the illegal reptile trade. As a result of his work, Indian Wildlife Control Bureau confiscated more than 300 lizard penises across 14 raids.
During his investigation, he posed as a potential penis buyer. Louies recalled one trader, a former customs officer, who had a stock of 30 dongs.
“He called himself a fortune-teller and told me my aura was not good. He had no idea my aura was going to be very bad for him,” Louies said.
His efforts haven’t been able to stop the trade completely. Law enforcement officials believe that the sellers have gone underground, but there are clear indications that the penises are in much shorter supply.
As an example, Louies said he saw an online retailer selling a Hatha Jodi for $690. The stupendous price is evidence that there aren’t that many “mystery roots” on the market anymore, he added.
While he waits for stricter legal efforts to protect the lizards, Loiues said he will continue monitoring the monitor trade. He looks to create conditions where it’s just too risky for the criminals to operate.
“To curb wildlife crimes, you need to be on your toes all the time,” he said