Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Dragons are obviously a thing of fiction.

  • Found in fairy tales, folklore and some show I don't want to talk about. It still hurts.

  • But the idea of dragons didn't just come out of thin air. Like many mythical beasts, they were inspired by real life nature.

  • The documentary we're featuring today is about one of those myths inspiring animals; the Sungazer lizard,  

  • also known as the Giant Dragon  lizard, and by Its scientific name,  

  • Smaug, Gigantic, yes, smaug like the dragon.

  • This amazingly beautiful lizard is disappearing quickly

  • because of the pet trade and people's  desire to own a dragon of their own.

  • And the answer to saving the species may not  be found out in the wild, but in a science lab, aided by the trusty pipette.

  • Make sure you stick around after the credits for a short q&a with the filmmaker.

  • Now from producer Shivan Parusnath. This is Saving Dragons.

  • The sungazer is a 20 million year old species of  lizard found only in South Africa. Because of the  

  • unique dragon like appearance, there is a high  demand for the species as a pet around the world.  

  • But there is a problem. The sungazer does not  breed in captivity. And all the animals we see  

  • in the trade worldwide come directly from our  threatening South African populations. For a  

  • species that is already experiencing population  declines because of our land transformation,  

  • our farms, cities and roads. poaching for the pet  trade is the last thing that the species needs.  

  • My name is Shivan Parusnath, and I'm doing my  PhD in zoology at Wits University in South Africa.  

  • I've been obsessed with dinosaurs and  dragons from as early as I can remember.  

  • And this lifelong obsession led me to study  reptiles. And I've spent the last seven years  

  • studying the sungazer. Over this time,  I've seen an increase in the number of sungazers  

  • being sold as pets on social media, and  a decrease in the number of animals in the wild.  

  • Recent studies have found that reptiles  are the number one most traded group of  

  • animals in the world, making up more than  half of all trading animals worldwide.  

  • And the sungazer is one of South Africa's most  highly sought after species in the pet trade.  

  • But without the species breeding in captivitysomething was wrong. It was clear to me that I  

  • was seeing some evidence of illegal activity. To  learn more about the reptile trade, its history in  

  • South Africa and the problems we face. I spoke  to two of South Africa's top reptile experts.  

  • Johan Morais is undoubtedly the name  that comes to most South Africans minds  

  • when it comes to reptiles. Johan has decades of  experience dealing with reptile trade issues,  

  • from his time as a policeman and honorary  officer at the Natal Parks board  

  • to his frequent consulting with nature  conservation and poaching cases. [JOHAN MARAIS] Yes, I

  • started, you know, I started with snakes  at a very young age about teens and  

  • and I've never been in favor of the  exploitation of reptiles specifically.  

  • And I think my first real involvement was back in  1979. The trend in reptiles was really, really big  

  • in the 60s and 70s, it was massive, and there was  one major exporter was shipping out 2030 40,000  

  • reptiles a month, just tons and tons. And by the  time the reptiles got to the airport, a quarter of  

  • more of that would be dead. And it didn't matterBecause they were bought for nothing. And they're  

  • sold for next to nothing. And what they did in  those days, they'd drop a half a dozen guys in  

  • a hillside. And they would steep on that hill for  the next four or five days with massive crowbars.  

  • And they will rip the area apart and catch every  single reptile they get. And we would look at  

  • a mountain range and say to this collector, well  let's take a drive there and let's see we can find  

  • and he would say don't bother we've been  there, we've done it. So in the past you  

  • know it was skins going out at a-rand-a-skink  that's that market is no longer in existence.

  • [SHIVAN] The reptile trade has boomed over the past  few decades, with worldwide reptile fairs  

  • showcasing the vast variety of animals for saleUnfortunately, there are loopholes in the system  

  • that are being used by people exploiting  our wildlife for profit. Today, the market  

  • is much more sophisticated and specializedAnd of course, the money is far, far greater.

  • [JOHAN] I think smuggling well that's still going on  it's becoming more and more difficult. There  

  • are more parcels being x-rayed. And if againif you think of this sort of money, you know,  

  • a suitcase full of rare rare reptiles is probably  worth two or three or 4 million Rand if you  

  • have. So what if you have to pay a 50,000 Rand  bribe? It's not big money. So what is happening  

  • is there's more and more of  this laundering where  

  • people are there's a stamp permit that sounded by a doctor, veteran doctor, and the animals are  

  • going out with permits, but they are not  being captive bred. It's just a big con.

  • [SHIVAN] After talking to your Johan, it was clear that  South Africans reptiles have long been exploited.  

  • With a clear list of problems facing rare and  threatened species, like the sungazer. I spoke  

  • to Professor Graham Alexander to learn more  about this worrying problem of reptile laundering.

  • Graham has been lecturing at Wits  University for over 30 years,  

  • and has supervised more than 30 postgraduate  research projects on reptiles.

  • [ALEXANDER] So as with money laundering, when you launder something, you hide the source of where you derived  

  • the money or in this particular instancethe reptiles. So with reptile laundering,  

  • what happens is that people masquerade as, as  captive breeders of reptiles, when in fact,  

  • they're actually poaching reptiles and selling  them into the pet trade. It's very easy to  

  • to launder reptiles in South Africa, because  effectively even if the legislation is there,  

  • there is very little enforcement of that  legislation. So it's very difficult to measure  

  • where organisms come from, whether they have been  wild caught whether they have been captive bred.  

  • So there are several groups of Southern  African reptiles that have got high demand  

  • in the reptile trade. There's various  types of snakes like the Small Adders,  

  • the tortoises are also in demand. And there's  various groups of lizards, especially the  

  • [inaudible] lizards, and some of the geckos, which  fetch very high prices internationally. [JOHAN] Girdled

  • lizards and then of course, the dwarf  chameleons, some very, very popular,  

  • some of them have extremely limited  distributions. Yeah, once you get to the  

  • to Europe, you go to Belgium, you go  to Germany, you go to the Netherlands,  

  • and the USA is a massive, massivemassive market. [SHIVAN] With demand for our

  • South African reptiles being this high. It  seems like smugglers and launders will find  

  • ways to get them out of the country, using the  loopholes in our systems, and the inefficiency  

  • and inadequacies of our local law enforcement  to police these issues. But there are solutions.

  • [ALEXANDER] Okay, so the first thing we need to really  change is our view of the importance of reptiles  

  • in ecosystems and how important they are in  conservation. We need to take reptiles seriously.

  • [JOHAN] For reptiles, there's no budget, there's  nothing. So it's all just random,

  • accidental captures, it's ridiculous. [ALEXANDER] So although  we have the legislation in South Africa to  

  • to limit the effect of of laundering of reptilesthe laws aren't really enforced, we don't really  

  • have the tools to ascertain whether a reptile  that's sold has actually been captive bred.  

  • And so what we are doing now is developing  the genetic tools to do just that.  

  • But we only have that available for few  species. [JOHAN] So we need an action plan, we

  • need the authorities to take responsibility. We  need to look at the genetics we need to impose  

  • restrictions on these exports force keepers  to have a genetic databank. It make them  

  • prove to you that what they are exporting  is captive bred put the onus on them.

  • [SHIVAN] An important part of my PhD research has been  to develop these genetic markers for sungazers  

  • so that we can do parentage tests and lizards  that are to be exported for the pet trade. Since  

  • we develop these markers, they have been used in  cases to deny permits for the export of sungazers  

  • from South Africa. And I'm happy to say that since  2015, no more sungazers have left the country  

  • under the guise of being captive bred. The small  victory fills me with a lot of hope. But there are  

  • so many other species of reptiles that still need  our help, and we have a long way to go to win this  

  • battle. Working with people that are passionate  about reptiles, conservation, and education,  

  • we can make the changes in our country that  are so desperately needed to save our dragons.

  • Thanks for watching Seeker Indie's screening  of Saving Dragons. We hope with stories like these  

  • about animals you may have never heard of that  will inspire the change, we need to save them,  

  • because we definitely need  more dragons in the world.  

  • Now we want to show you our q&a with producers  Shivan Parusnath checking in on the status of the  

  • sungazer lizard, and what is being done to  help stop the very destructive wild pet trade.

  • I'm Shivan Parasnath. I'm a biologist and  photographer and filmmaker from South Africa. I've  

  • been doing research on the sun gazer for 10 years  now, I started off when I was looking for master's  

  • projects. It kind of what it was at the exact  same time that I was looking to start a master's  

  • degree in biology, the endangered wildlife  trust, an organization here in South Africa,  

  • was looking to have a conservation assessment  done on the species, basically, to see how many  

  • animals were left in the wild, how populations  are doing, how they've changed over time.  

  • My dad always has a camera from the time  we were kids even now when I visited him.  

  • There's always a camera around as  cameras became more accessible to me.  

  • I found them just to be a beautiful way to capture  life into capture moments. And as I went on this  

  • journey of researching the sungazer is it's such  a beautiful animal but not a lot of great shots  

  • of the species had existed. I think that asscientist, especially you have many opportunities  

  • to capture things a lot of people don't get  the opportunity to. And that's why I think science  

  • communication is such a beautiful thing because  you can share stories and images with people  

  • that are really just not accessible to someone in  the general public. And it lets you firstly learn  

  • more about the world. And secondly allows you to  care about things maybe you didn't know existed.  

  • There's a saying that the best camera you  can have him as the one that's on you,  

  • one of my favorite photographs that that I've  taken was taken with an old Samsung Galaxy s3,  

  • about seven, eight years ago. And of all  the shots I've taken with, you know, very  

  • fancy camera equipment ever since then, this was  one of my favorite shots, and it was used in the  

  • National Geographic magazine, it was on the  back cover of our South African reptile Atlas.  

  • What we've got planned now is the formation  of the first sort of reptile working group in  

  • South Africa that actually aims to focus just on  reptile trade issues with South African reptiles.  

  • So the aim for the next, I would say, five to  10 years is to kind of get this up and running,  

  • to do non detriment findings to have species  listed on site so they can be afforded better  

  • protection. The idea is to have this multi step  approach. Of course, we want to continue with the  

  • scientific research to be able to use genetics. So  it's just kind of taking everything we've learned  

  • over the past 10 years and applying it to many  other species besides just the sun gazer. You know,  

  • my dream is that one day in a few years timepoachers will say, Well, I'm not going to poach  

  • in South Africa, because there's just too much  policing there too. On the ball. You'll get  

  • you'll get you'll get caught out, and there's no  way you can do it. You know that that's where I  

  • want it to be. It's kind of getting there with  sun gaze is to an extent, and I would love that  

  • to be for every reptile where no one dares  set a foot yet with with those intentions.

  • This was Seeker Indie, Seeker's  independent filmmaker showcase.  

  • Keep coming back to see what else we have in store  and the amazing stories we continue to highlight.  

  • Thanks for watching, and we'll  see you next time on Seeker.

Dragons are obviously a thing of fiction.

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B1 reptile south africa south johan africa trade

This Ancient Species Is Under Attack, How Can They Be Protected? | Seeker Indie

  • 1 2
    林宜悉 posted on 2021/03/08
Video vocabulary