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December 3, 2011

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Lizard fans 'traded rare reptile'

REPTILE enthusiasts accused of trading in endangered Chinese crocodile lizards on the Internet went on trial yesterday at the Huangpu District People's Court.

Huang Wentao and Huang Jie, were charged with illegally selling endangered wildlife while three other men were accused of illegally purchasing an endangered species.

Prosecutors said Huang Wentao, 26, from Guangdong Province, posted a notice at an online chat room for reptile fans in June, offering the protected semi-aquatic lizards for sale.

He then sold three lizards to Huang Jie, a 23-year-old Shanghai resident, for 1,500 yuan (US$236), delivering the animals from Guangdong to Shanghai on June 28, it is claimed.

According to prosecutors, Huang Jie sold two lizards to friends Yang Lei and Shen Zhenyu, who owned a reptile pet shop on Xitangjia Lane in Huangpu District. The third lizard was sold to fellow reptile enthusiast Sun Yu, the court heard.

In court, the five accused, all in their 20s, claimed they didn't know the crocodile lizard is listed as a first-class nationally protected species in China.

This was despite having searched online for information on the species found in forests in Hunan and Guizhou provinces and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, said prosecutors.

Yang and Shen said they had planned to sell the lizards, whose bony scales on their backs and tails resemble those found on crocodiles, but decided to keep them as pets in their shop because they "liked them very much."

Huang Wentao, an advertising company employee, said he bought five lizards in 2008 for 1,400 yuan and had raised them for three years. Wang told the court he decided to sell the animals as he was busy at work and his home was too small for them.

The five were detained following a tip-off in July, the court heard.

Prosecutors said that the accused had broken China's Criminal Law, regardless of whether they planned to keep as pets or sell the animals.

The court did not announce a verdict yesterday.

Those convicted of illegally buying, transporting or selling nationally protected species or products made from them can be jailed for up to 10 years.

The three lizards are now in Shanghai Zoo. An official, surnamed Chen, told Shanghai Daily they are not in good condition and the zoo has not decided whether to let them hibernate.

An estimated 1 million people own exotic pets - such as snakes, lizards and monkeys - on China's mainland, many of which are protected species.

Crocodile lizards spend much of their time in the water or on overhanging vegetation, preying on fish, tadpoles, snails and insects.


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