When we think of wildlife, the first thing that comes to our mind is a forest with abundant vegetation and lots of trees; very different from the barren environments of the deserts having dry and arid climate with long extents of sand dunes. In actuality, environments like the deserts are rich in wildlife in their own way. They are spread with rocky hills, meager vegetation, and sandy stretches and pebbly plains, and are home to various species of wildlife, some rare, some are endemic, or some critically endangered.
Let’s talk about one such species named Spiny-tailed Lizard also known as Saara hardwickii or also Hardwicke’s spiny-tailed lizard.
The Spiny-tailed Lizard species is found in areas of Rajasthan i.e the Thar desert or the Kutch areas and the adjacent arid zones in India and Pakistan. This species is the only species of lizards in the subcontinent that is vegetarian which is an uncommon speciality in an area with scanty rainfall and scanty vegetation in the deserts. However, sometimes they eat insects due to being vulnerable to starvation in the drought years otherwise they are totally vegetarian. The spiny-tailed lizards do not have teeth like other herbivores to chew their food i.e. the plants or leaves. Another distinctive feature of this species is that these are social creatures that live in colonies, not like the other species who live independent insociable lives. The species is profoundly exploited commercially and locally for its skin, oil and meat as it is believed that it has great medicinal properties. The species is also
threatened due to their habitat destruction and the illegal trades.
This species is not much studied nor clearly understood due to the lack of proper information. We have a detailed study on Spiny-tailed lizards which is almost a century old. It is perhaps the most threatened species of the Great Indian Desert and in India, it is classified as Vulnerable species but due to lack of information is not included in the IUCN red list. So basically the conservation status is- not protected. The number of the spiny- tailed lizards is declining and the reason stated is the increasing temperatures.
The lizards live in the burrows and come out in to relax under the sun and gain some energy by increasing the body temperatures so that go hunting for food. The lizards cannot survive extreme temperatures as extreme temperatures can be fatal for them and also have an effect on their reproductive cycles. This process works in a cycle i.e. when you eat more
you have the energy to produce more and vice versa. The spiny-tailed lizards have evolved themselves in order to adapt to the changing habitat. Climate change is continuously changing desert surroundings. And the habitat changes obstruct the ability of the species to respond to these changes and they may suffer extinction at a very fast rate and the lizardshave difficulty in evolving as they cannot keep pace with the change happening that is too fast or them than their adaptation rate. The reduction in the number of lizards can affect the food chain and in a long term the ecosystem too. Our conservation efforts only revolve around the bigger animals and mostly small species like lizards are ignored even though
they are important for our biodiversity. So the only way put for this is to pay attention to the desert ecosystems and more study has to be encouraged and these areas should not be neglected as they too contain a rich variety of flora and fauna essential to maintain a proper balance in the ecology of the areas.