SAN DIEGO - An extremely rare monitor lizard whose parents were confiscated from smugglers is now living at the San Diego Zoo and available for viewing by guests, park officials said Tuesday.
The year-old Gray's monitor was hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo after its parents were taken in by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from the illegal pet trade.
Gray's monitors are shy reptiles that are only found on a few islands in the Philippines. The species is distinctive for a diet that consists primarily of fruit, in contrast to the majority of monitor lizards that mainly eat meat.
"Monitor lizards, if you look really closely, actually look like dinosaurs," said Laurie Arends, a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. "They have that focus and attention, so monitor lizards will pay attention all the time and they use that instinct to get through life."
The Gray's monitor is categorized as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.
Due to the lizards' elusive nature, conservationists are not sure of precise population figures. However, in the last decade, researchers have seen the species' numbers drop by more than around 30 percent, due to habitat loss and fragmentation, hunting and collection for the illegal pet trade.
Conservationists believe the best way to help the species survive is to maintain a healthy population in managed care, while at the same time protecting its existing wild habitat.
The Gray's monitor now at the San Diego Zoo is expected to grow to an estimated five feet in length as an adult. Guests can visit him in the Klauber-Shaw Reptile House.