The lizard was found by members of the Nature Association, which has been endeavoring to save the reptile from extinction through a project known as Urfa's Steppes, launched as part of the campaign Target Zero Extinction. Although some locals claimed to have seen it many times, the desert monitor had never been photographed before in Turkey as they are able to quickly escape observers. Growing over a meter in length, this desert monitor is Turkey's largest lizard species.
Also known as the giant lizard among locals since most have never seen a reptile of such size before, the desert monitor was photographed in its natural habitat for the first time by Turan Çetin from the Nature Association. Çetin's achievement raised the morale of the team, which still holds out hope for preserving many steppe animals that face extinction in the Southeast because of the rapid loss of their habitat. While the average size of a desert monitor is one meter, they may grow as long as one-and-a-half meters.
The association first located the spots where the lizard was reported to have been seen by villagers, who, in most cases, try to kill this type of lizard as they greatly fear its rather daunting appearance. After the association started holding information sessions with the villagers, they became more aware of its characteristics and made efforts to protect the species.
"We have even played games with school kids to teach them more about this lizard and spoke with as many villagers as we could. Ahmet Demir, who is a volunteer member of our association, has been exploring the region for two years and making a record of all the places where the animal was seen. We managed to photograph and film it with the voluntary help of the villagers for the most part," Güven Eken, the director general of the association, stated.
Eken noted that the association's Urfa team had been working for a long time to make people aware of the beauty and richness of the region's steppes. "The filming of very rare animals such as the desert monitor is a very important development in terms of reminding Turkey that nature doesn't consist of only 'blue and green.' The species that have a special place in our culture are all steppe animals such as gazelles and cranes," he said, adding that the association would continue doing its utmost to raise the bar of awareness and protect the animal life in the steppes.
Desert monitor (Varanus griseus griseus)
Varanus griseus griseus is a predator. Its teeth are acute and compressed. Its snout is depressed at the end, as long as the distance from the anterior border of the orbit to the anterior border of the ear. Its nostrils are an oblique slit, about four times as distant from the end of the snout as from the orbit. The digits are rather short. Its tail is round or slightly compressed. The scales of the head, including the supra-oculars, are very small and granular. The scales on the upper surface are small, smooth or feebly keeled; those on the sides of the neck are generally conical in adult specimens. The abdominal scales are smooth, in 110 to 125 transverse series (counted from collar-fold to groin). Its caudal scales are more or less distinctly keeled with no caudal crest. It is grayish yellow, sometimes with more or less distinct brown cross bars on the back and tail, and brown streaks along the sides of the neck. The young have round yellow spots and dark brown cross bars and temporal and cervical streaks with a few brown lines across the snout and short vertical brown lines on the lower lip. The female can lay up to 12 eggs at a time. They are terrestrial as well as arboreal and dig burrows. This species lives in North Africa and the Middle East, including the Turkish towns of Ceylanpınar, Şırnak and Silopi as well as the steppes of Şanlıurfa.