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The Butaan Project - Background and History Print E-mail
butaan2.jpgThe butaan was first described to science in 1845 from a juvenile specimen collected by Hugh Cuming. It was labelled only "Philippines". It was named Varanus grayi.  No other specimens came to light for over 120 years. In the 1970s Walter Auffenberg found another specimen with a location in Luzon, established that its correct scientific name was Varanus olivaceus, and undertook a 22 month study of the species based in Bicol. His study revealed that butaan occupy a unique ecological niche and have a lifestyle quite unlike any other monitor lizard. Auffenberg used local hunters with dogs to catch the animals. Of 126 butaan caught during his study, 116 animals were killed.

 

He concluded that butaan:

  • Are specialist frugivores and molluscivore
  • Feed on very narrow range of fruits
  • Forage exclusively on the ground to collect perfectly ripe fruits
  • Have very small activity areas
  • Are absent from degraded forest


As a result of Auffenberg's work the species was classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN. The only monitor lizard considered to be at risk of extinction is the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodeoensis). Whilst the Komodo dragon attracted much attention and is one of the best known animals in the world, the butaan was completely ignored. No further attempts were made to study it until 1999.

Our work on the butaan began in 1999. At the time the only study of the species had been that of Walter Auffenberg in the 1970s. Our project began as an investigation into the use of non-destructive methods to study different animal groups. The butaan posed a unique challenge.

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The main aims of this project are to
  • Develop entirely non-intrusive methods to assess populations of Varanus olivaceus on Polillo and and investigate their baseline ecology.
  • Apply these methods to other parts of the Philippines where giant frugivorous lizards may still exist.
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About Mampam
William Oliver

William Oliver. Champion of biodiversity and its students. So many of us benefited from his advice and expertise. What a character. RIP.

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Help Mampam
The Butaan Project
Varanus bitatawa

Varanus bitatawa is the third species of  monitor lizard to be recognised by science that belongs to the "Pandan 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. Pandan 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.

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