4 Men Gang Raped a Protected Monitor Lizard. Experts Explain Why.

Bestiality, or sexual intercourse between human and animal, is banned in most parts of the world.
Pallavi Pundir
Jakarta, ID
bestiality, crime, india, wildlife, gang rape, monitor lizard
Some research in India found the presence of bestiality in mythology and rural folk tales. Photo: Sam Panthaky / AFP

When Vishal Mali found videos of four poachers gang raping a protected monitor lizard in one of India’s top tiger reserves last month, he was genuinely befuddled and disturbed.

“Cases of humans raping animals like goats and cows are rare enough,” Mali, the division forest officer in western India’s Sahyadri Tiger Reserve where the incident took place, told VICE World News. “But this is the first rape case, to my knowledge, involving a monitor lizard.” 


VICE World News previously reported that the accused men killed the reptile, then cooked and ate it. Out of the 73 surviving monitor lizard species across the world, India has only four species, with a population that is dwindling fast. 

News of the grisly fate of the monitor lizard – the only one of its kind at the reserve – went viral. The accused were charged under India’s wildlife protection law but granted bail two weeks later. Now, Mali and his team are taking legal help to also charge them under a law that criminalises bestiality. Violating the wildlife protection law can lead to seven years in prison; violating the law on bestiality can have one imprisoned for life. 

bestiality, crime, india, wildlife, gang rape, monitor lizard

Officials who caught four men for poaching and gang raping a monitor lizard are set to charge them under bestiality laws in India. Photo: Vishal Mali

Bestiality is defined as “unnatural sex” under a colonial-era law in India, which also criminalised homosexuality up until 2018. The law prohibits and penalises sexual intercourse between a human and an animal, and calls it “against the order of nature.” No official data on bestiality are available in India, and its wildlife protection law excludes human-animal sex.


Mali and certainly almost everyone who’s heard of the monitor lizard incident are wondering: Why would anyone sexually assault a reptile, or any animal for that matter? Although humans have had a long, if niche, history of bestiality, its motivations appear to be diverse and little understood. 

Narayan Reddy, an Indian sexologist with over 40 years of experience, corroborated the lack of data on the number of incidents. “We don’t know much about bestiality, and that makes it hard for experts like me to find out why it even exists,” he told VICE World News. He attributed its underreporting to shame and stigma, and also the fact that it is a crime. “The legal implications deter people from reporting it, and animals obviously can’t speak for themselves,” he said. 

A 2021 report by wildlife advocacy groups recorded 82 cases of animal sexual abuse between 2010 and 2020, out of 500,000 animal-related crimes in India. 

“We don’t know much about bestiality, and that makes it hard for experts like me to find out why it even exists.”

Mali said the monitor lizard case might set a precedent in India. “The punishments for crimes like this are not well thought-out because this has never happened before,” he said. “Unfortunately, those hooligans ate the monitor lizard and we don’t have much evidence apart from the video we seized on their phones.”


Although an unpopular topic, bestiality does exist. American author Joanna Bourke, who explored “modern bestiality” in the U.S. and UK in her book Loving Animals, told VICE World News that what the men did to the monitor lizard was sexual violence. “It was an act of power, of entitlement as humans who can do whatever they like to non-human bodies. It was pure violence and aggression,” she said. 

She added that the men taking photos and videos of the act was, in fact, typical of sexual violence. “These were trophy photographs. They were performing this kind of violent masculinity in a very carnivalesque manner,” she said. “They did to a non-human what ordinary men do to women, but in an animal dimension.”

Reddy, the Indian sexologist, said he has also encountered cases of zoophilia, defined as human attraction to animals that doesn’t necessarily translate to sexual acts. “I’ve seen nearly 30 cases of zoophilia and bestiality cases in my life,” he said. Some came to him to address erectile dysfunction, then ended up revealing a history of sexual intercourse with cows or buffaloes, which they couldn’t tell their partners. Others, he added, were brought to him by their families out of fear the person’s sexual act could get them arrested. 

Why People Have Sex With Animals

Some research in India has found the presence of bestiality in mythology or in the form of legends in rural pockets. One paper states that in southern India, there are human-animal marriages that are supposed to bring prosperity, while bestiality, in other parts, is believed to cure sexually transmitted diseases. Those myths come to life in the ancient Indian city of Khajuraho, where a 10th-century stone panel show men having sex with horses. The phenomenon is by no means limited to India. In the West, some prehistoric cave paintings contain depictions of bestiality. 

bestiality, crime, india, wildlife, gang rape, monitor lizard

A panel depicting bestiality in the ancient Indian city of Khajuraho. Photo: Kkavita/ Wikimedia Commons

Bestiality is a popular search term in porn too. VICE World News found dozens of bestiality-related porn websites, some even specifically featuring sex with monitor lizards. 

“The human mind wants to see unusual things, and derive some sort of mental gratification,” said Reddy. “The porn industry relies a lot on this kind of curiosity.”

“The human mind wants to see unusual things, and derive some sort of mental gratification. The porn industry relies a lot on this kind of curiosity.”

Some research, widely cited by animal rights activists, draw links between criminality and bestiality among other forms of animal abuse. In the popular Netflix true crime series Don’t Fuck With Cats, a serial killer in the U.S. had a history of torturing and killing cats. In 2016, an Indian man arrested for raping and murdering a young woman was found with a history of bestiality and killing the animals afterwards. 

“Statistically, perpetrators of animal abuse and cruelty are more likely to commit other illegal and violent crimes as compared to others,” Shreya Paropkari, a consultant with Humane Society International - India, told VICE World News. “A crime like [the monitor lizard one] is less about the animal and more about the person committing it.” Paropkari helped draft around 20 animal rape cases for petitioners over the years. The conviction rate, she said, is close to nonexistent. 


Bestiality is legal in some European countries like Hungary, Romania, Belarus, and Russia, as well as four states in the U.S. It is however illegal in Pennsylvania where, in 2018, three men were arrested for running a bestiality “orgy” farm. They’re still behind bars on over 1,400 counts of bestiality. The incident prompted activists to appeal for a nationwide ban on human-animal sex. In India, the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is campaigning to include sexual assault in the wildlife protection law. 

Indian police usually hesitate to address animal sexual abuse cases, Paropkari said. “This is because there’s no suitable system to deal with it.”

Reddy said that the incident brings up the larger problem of repressed sexuality in India. “The day we make the society comfortable talking about sexual matters, we will know more about issues like bestiality, and know how exactly to address it.”

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