Monitor lizards sighted in bizarre places: Here's where and why

Monitor lizards sighted in bizarre places: Here's where and why
A water monitor lizard was spotted going for a swim at Jurong East Swimming Complex
PHOTO: Stomp

SINGAPORE - Lazy lizards are a thing now, it seems.

In true urban jungle fashion, a water monitor lizard was spotted taking a leisurely dip in Jurong East Swimming Complex's Lazy River attraction on Wednesday (Feb 15).

Photo: Stomp

The Lazy River is a pool with strong currents which visitors can relax in and drift along without the need to swim.

Wednesday's sighting joins a growing list of reported incidents where monitor lizards have been found in bizarre places.

One of these large lizards was filmed lying motionless on the road right smack in the middle of peak-hour traffic in Buangkok on Feb 3. Its presence caused a mini traffic jam as vehicles tried to avoid running over it.

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Roads.sg later reported that the reptile was killed after being hit by a car.

Last September, another made international headlines after streaking across the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix race track.

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Red Bull driver Max Verstappen had exclaimed that there was a "giant lizard" on the track, to which his engineer radioed back: "You came face-to-face with Godzilla."

Earlier that year, a jogger captured a video of a hungry monitor lizard feasting on a dead stray cat at Japanese Garden.

 
And of course it had to make a guest appearance in everyone's favourite town, Yishun
 

Why the rise in sightings?

Acres deputy chief executive Kalai Vanan told AsiaOne that while monitor lizards are commonly found island-wide, viral social media postings of photos and videos have contributed to a surge in media attention.

In fact, there are many more cases that have gone undocumented on cyberspace.

Mr Vanan said that Acres gets an average of about 20 to 30 reports on monitor lizards a month, most of which are cases where the reptiles can or should be left alone. They are usually sighted at places like nature areas, drains and park connectors, which are near the animal's natural habitat. 

Read also: You won't believe these gorgeous wildlife photos were taken in Singapore

Despite its large size, Mr Vanan added that these creatures are typically harmless.

"Just like most wild animals, monitor lizards are shy animals which will rather run away when confronted," he said.

"It is important that we do not provoke or harm them and learn to co-exist with them as Singapore continues to urbanise into a green city."

A case of mistaken identity

Sometimes, water monitor lizards are also mistaken as crocodiles. But despite its large size, the monitor lizard lacks the bony scutes that run across a crocodile's body.

One such case last November resulted in the suspension of water activities in Marina Reservoir, after reports of a creature resembling a crocodile surfaced.

Singapore water agency PUB later clarified that it was simply a case of mistaken identity.

"We have checked with more experts, including AVA, NUS, ACRES and Singapore Zoo, and they are of the view that the creature is most likely a monitor lizard," the authority said then.

Even the monitor lizard that was stranded in traffic in Buangkok was also wrongly identified as a baby crocodile in a Whatsapp message that circulated in early February.

About the water monitor lizard

According to IUCN Red List, monitor lizards are native to Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands.

The most common species found here is the Malayan Water Monitor (Varanus Salvator), which can grow up to 3m long. It typically resides in forests, mangrove swamps and man-made canals.

A monitor lizard basking in the sun at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve Photo: The Straits Times

And in Singapore's case, it enjoys the occasional dip in the pool.

While it is not a threatened species, it still remains a target of poaching, hunted for its leathery skin, meat and fat. The problem is rampant in Sri Lanka, but also exists in Singapore, although NParks said that these cases are rarely reported to the authorities.

In Singapore, it is illegal to remove wild animals, including monitor lizards, from the wild. Those found in nature reserves are also protected by the Parks and Trees Act. 

debwong@sph.com.sg

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