Major online retailers caught up in international trade of selling lizard penises used for religious rituals

20 June 2017

Dried lizard penises is being sold on Amazon, Ebay, Alibaba, Snapdeal and Etsy among others and being passed off as Hatha Jodi, a tantric plant root.

A team of investigators and scientists from India and the UK have uncovered a major international fraud – Monitor Lizard Hemipenis (male sexual organs) is being passed off as tantric plant roots also known as Hatha Jodi to unwitting customers via major online retailers including Amazon, Ebay, Alibaba, Snapdeal and Etsy among others.

Across Asian diaspora in UK, USA and Europe, Tantric practitioners strongly believe that Hatha Jodi, a plant root, if appropriately energised by a guru, can change a person’s life bringing immense wealth and happiness. However, what is being sold to them is the dried penis of a protected lizard that is being trapped and killed in India.

Gajender K Sharma, India Country Director, World Animal Protection, said: “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. These illegal items are readily available in the UK and USA with potential street value of £50,000 GBP”.

These lizards are being illegally poached from the wild, caught in traps and snares. Some will have their throats slit or their skulls smashed in before their genitals are removed for use as ‘Hatha Jodi’ and others will still be alive when this process begins, with no remorse to the pain they endure.

Hatha Jodi is marketed as a good luck charm and to ward away spirits – the plant is also rare found only in remote areas of Nepal and Central India and now laboratory tests carried out by scientists at Manchester Metropolitan University has revealed evidence to suggest that customers are being duped and independent tests by Indian labs have confirmed the suspicion.  

Collaborating scientist Dr David Megson, Manchester Metropolitan University said: “Given the photos being advertised online, we needed to get into the laboratory to confirm our suspicions that that these dried ‘plant roots’ were in fact derived from Indian monitor lizards. However, the plot thickened even further when tests revealed that some of these items are actually plastic mouldings of monitor lizard genitalia”.

All Monitor lizards are Schedule I animals and any trade involving it or its body parts is a national offence under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Both the Bengal and Yellow Monitor lizard are also listed under Appendix I of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) - the highest level of international legal protection that can be afforded and that prohibits commercial trade.  

In a recent wildlife trade enforcement bust, a haul of 210 Hatha Jodi, including hemipenis from Bengal and Yellow Monitor Lizards, were seized from a house in Bhubaneswar (capital of the eastern Indian Odisha State, India) by a joint team of the Wildlife Trust of India and federal Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), Crime Branch of State Police and Forest department. The price of these illegal items was stated to range from £5-50 GBP apiece with price being dictated by their size. There have been further raids in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Lead investigator Aniruddha Mookerjee said: “This international illegal trade is of major concern for the continued survival of the lizard species involved. Both Bengal and Yellow Monitor lizards are protected under Indian and international law. But even a quick search reveals hundreds of items on sale, sometimes at prices over £200 GBP apiece. If left unchecked, this demand could grow to the extent that it pushes some wild populations over the edge. The product is freely available online and in shops across every major Hindu pilgrimage site in India. ”.

World Animal Protection is approaching all major international online retailers, requesting that they remove all illegal Monitor lizard body parts – currently being sold as ‘Hatha Jodi’ –from their websites.

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About the research:

This research represents an on-going collaboration between researchers from World Animal Protection and Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) in the UK.

Lead researchers - World Animal Protection

Collaborating researchers - MMU has driving ambition to discover and disseminate knowledge, to make higher education accessible and beneficial to all those with the passion and ability to succeed

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