Butaan Project 

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Varanus bitatawa is the third species of  monitor lizard to be recognised by science that belongs to the "Putras Biawak" group,  all of which are of at least as great a conservation concern as the Komodo dragon, but receive virtually none of the attention. Putras Biawak occur only in lowland dipterocarp forest. The first species (Varanus olivaceus or Butaan) was discovered in 1845 and not seen alive by a scientist until the late 1970s. The next species (Varanus mabitang or Mabitang) was discovered in 2001 and in 2010 Varanus bitatawa (Butikaw or Bitatawa) was described. Other species of frugivorous monitor lizards may remain undescribed, but many may have  gone extinct without ever having been recognised.

The first known picture of Varanus bitatawa was taken in 2001 by Ms. Perla Visoro. The animal first came to my attention in 2003 when Merlijn van Weerd showed me pictures of an unusual animal that had been killed for food with a machete. Other pictures from field workers (Jessie Guerrero, M. Roy Duya and Tessa Minter) confirmed that there was a very usual and variably coloured monitor lizard in Sierra Madre that was very similar to Varanus olivaceus. Consequently he invited me to Sierra Madre, where we found incontrovertible evidence of a large frugivorous monitor lizard. Thanks to a BP Conservation Award and grants from Chester Zoo (UK) and Dallas Zoo (USA) we worked in cooperation with CVPED and the Mabuwaya Foundation, and engaged Roldan Dugay to investigate the new animal. In 2004 Roldan obtained the first specimen on the new species (PNM 9008 in the Philippine National Museum). However there was no suitable specimen of Varanus olivaceus to compare the new lizard to, and although  the new species had very different pattern and coloration, its scallion seemed identical to Varanus olivaceus. We showed the specimen and photographs to various taxonomist experts who differed in their opinion of whether the Sierra Madre animals differed enough from Varanus olivaceus to be a new species. The following year Edmund Leo B. Rico together with Nestor A. Bartolome and Uldarico Carestia found more evidence of the new species elsewhere in Sierra Madre.

On 29 June 2009 Luke Welton, a student at the University of Kansas under the supervision of Dr Rafe Brown, and others collected a specimen of the new lizard in Aurora province, Philippines. This animal is catalogued as PNM 9719 in the Philippine National Museum herpetological collection. On 6 July 2009 Luke Welton and others collected a specimen of Varanus olivaceus from Polillo Island, Quezon province, Philippines. This animal is KU 322187 in the Kansas University Museum herpetological collection. These two specimens were used in the description of Varanus bitatawa published in Biology Letters in April 2010. Varanus bitatawa photo gallery 1

varanusbitatawaVaranus bitatawa Varanus bitatawa photo gallery 1


Since 1999 the Butaan Project has been studying the rare, endangered, and unique fruit-eating monitor lizards of the Philippines.  Butaan is just one of several races of frugivorous monitor lizards in the Philippines ("Putras Biawak"), all of which are of at least as great a conservation concern as the Komodo dragon, but recieve virtually none of the attention. Putras Biawak occur only in lowland dipterocarp forest. The first species (Butaan) was discovered in 1845 and not seen alive by a scientist until the late 1970s. The next species (Mabitang) was discovered in 2001. Other species remain undescribed, and some may have gone extinct without ever having been recognised.



      



The Butaan Project has developed many non-intrusive ways to study these extremely shy lizards, including the use of camera traps to monitor populations and a long-term study of the animals' role as seed dispersers on Polillo Island. We have trained many field workers in our non-intrusive techniques, with some very exciting results! The Butaan Project operates on less than $6000 per year and welcomes financial assistance.




Polillo island- google earth



The dark green patch at center left is the last remaining fragment of unlogged lowland dipterocarp forest on Polillo Island, and our main study site for the last 11 years.
This is a young Butaan learning to eat fruit. It is cropped from a video originally about 5 minutes long. Made with a Trailmaster 770 passive infrared trail monitor and a Sony TVR camcorder.



      
Conservation Photo Galleries
Camera Trapping
Diet and Seed Dispersal
Overview
Survey Techniques
Meet the Team
Donate
Volunteer