Lucky break for the water monitor
The water monitor is the world’s second-heaviest lizard after the Komodo dragon, and the couple that came my way on a recent trip to Sri Lanka were seriously impressive specimens.
Both were hunting along waterways on the outskirts of Colombo. One (pictured above) had a chook carcass and was heading into the mangroves to consume it at leisure. The other, a much larger beast (below), emerged from an adjacent lake – pond plants still attached to its scaly skin – and swaggered confidently down a path a few metres in front of me.
Water monitors have shorter lives in the wild then in captivity – largely because they are slaughtered in their millions for their beautifully patterned skin. They are also highly prized for perceived medicinal and aphrodisiac benefits and eaten in Indonesia as a novelty food.
But in Sri Lanka, the water monitors are in luck. They are protected by local people because they eat crabs that would otherwise undermine the banks of rice fields, and because they eat venomous snakes.
Conservation of a symbiotic kind – if only more countries were as smart.
(Footnote: The Sri Lanka Wildlife Department operates an armed and well-resourced flying squad to combat illegal poaching and smuggling of plants and animals.)
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