They’re being told it’s a rare herb.

Hatha jodi. The people selling this strange, cactus-shaped product say it’s the rare root of a plant that can be used as a lucky charm. But in reality, it’s made from the body parts of monitor lizards. And the lizards used to make hatha jodi go through absolute hell.

First, monitor lizards are stolen from the wild and tied up so they can’t get away. Then their claws are painfully removed from all four feet.


Credit:
World Animal Protection

But the worst part is what happens next — after selecting the male lizards, people burn off the skin around the animals’ penises, and remove them with a sharp knife while the lizards are still alive. After this, the animals die slow, excruciating deaths.

Every year, hundreds of male monitor lizards are put through this agony to produce hatha jodi, which is sold as a good luck token across India and around the world. The occult practitioners who sell hatha jodi promise the buyers that the lizard penises will make them wealthy, healthy and attractive.


Credit:
World Animal Protection

The product’s “magical properties” are strange enough, but its designation as a rare tree root is pretty bizarre too. Jose Louies, chief of the wildlife crime control division for International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), told The Dodo that a hatha jodi plant doesn’t actually exist.

“The hatha jodi is in fact the animal product which was sold as a plant product,” Louies said. “The look of the dried penis is like a plant product.  Everyone who was selling it online cooked their own versions of stories, and no one thought beyond the words of sellers, who are astrologers, faith healers or spiritual advisors.”


Credit:
IFAW

Dr. Neil D’Cruze, a scientist with World Animal Protection, is also fairly certain that an actual hatha jodi plant doesn’t exist. If it does, however, he thinks it’s probably cheaper and easier for sellers to use monitor lizards.

“It is said to belong to a rare plant found only in special sacred sites — Lumbini valley in Nepal and Amarkantak hills in central India,” D’Cruze told The Dodo. “If a real plant does exist at these extremely remote locations, then the four Indian species of monitor lizards, given their wide distribution, would be easier and cheaper to source.”


Credit:
IFAW

Hatha jodi is produced in India, and it’s sold in spiritual shops and temples around the country. However, it’s also sold internationally through major retailers like Amazon, Esty and eBay at exorbitant prices.

But the lizards pay an even higher price for hatha jodi.


Credit:
IFAW

“Tribal hunters use dogs, snares, or they smoke the den or simply disturb the habitat and chase them and capture,” Louies said. “After capture, they tie them in a knot using the tail of the animal after removing the claws. The animal is kept alive this way for more than a few days.”

In other instances, hunters will tie the lizards up with their own claws, according to Louies.


Credit:
IFAW

Warning: Graphic photo below

“The hunters remove the claws of the animal while it is alive, and use … the pulled claw as a string to tie the limbs together,” Louies said. “Imagine your fingers being mashed and used to tie your hands together behind your back. The tail is then taken around the neck and knotted — this way the animal cannot move.”

And once the penis is removed, people often skin the lizards to make shoes or drums, and sell their meat, according to Louies.


Credit:
IFAW

The hatha jodi trade isn’t just cruel — it’s also illegal. Most monitor lizard species are protected under CITES Appendix I, which prohibits the trade of these animals. Indian wildlife laws protect the lizards, too, so anyone selling hatha jodi is actually breaking the law.

The best way to stop the hatha jodi trade is education and awareness, as well as better online surveillance of product sales, according to Louies.


Credit:
IFAW

“We are going to counter it online, ensuring that sites from India will not have the product for sale,” Louies said. “We have some online tools for keeping an eye on the product and its variant names.”


Credit:
IFAW

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