The illegal wildlife trade is big business, but it isn't all ivory tusks and tiger fur – it can even affect an unexpected assortment of flora and fauna. Laboratory tests have found that many online peddlers are tricking customers into buying lizard penises under false pretenses.
A recent investigation by World Animal Protection found that poachers are selling the dried lizard hemipenis as Hatha Jodi, a tantric plant root used in some traditional practices from India and Nepal.
The hemipenis is the two-headed copulatory organ of some male reptiles, including lizards and snakes. Hatha Jodi, on the other hand, is a rare plant root from central India and Nepal believed by some to bring good luck and fortune to anyone who possesses it.
The investigators found that the lizard penises are being sold through online shops featured on Amazon, Ebay, Alibaba, Snapdeal, Etsy, and other e-commerce platforms. The price of the fake items range from $6 to $63, depending on their size, although some were seen selling for up to $254.
“We were shocked at the sheer audacity and scale of this illegal wildlife trade," lead scientist Dr Neil D’Cruze of World Animal Protection said in a statement. "Deceitful dealers claiming to sell holy plant root labeled 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”.
The conmen in question are using the dried penis of monitor lizards as it bears a resemblance to the root, yet is easier to find. The lizards are caught in the wild using traps and snares. They then have their throats slit or their skulls smashed before their genitals are removed. All monitor lizards are labeled as “Schedule I” animals under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972, meaning it is illegal to trade the animal or any of its body parts.
A recent wildlife trade enforcement bust found the lizards being stored for this exact purpose. The raid at a house in the city of Bhubaneswar found up to 210 Hatha Jodi, including hemipenis from Bengal and yellow monitor lizards.
Lab tests in the UK and India were used to identify the real nature of these supposed Hatha Jodi. Upon further investigation, they even found that many of the “roots” were actually plastic molds of lizard penises.
Needless to say, there’s no scientific evidence to suggest the root will bring you fortune or good luck, and that certainly holds true for a lizard penis or a plastic mold.