Braving the Biawak

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Monitor lizards are stealthy hunters both on land and in the water

Monitor lizards, known locally as biawak, often lurk near drains, streams and rivers. Malaysia is home to a number of monitor lizards, with the Water Monitor Lizard (Varanus salvator) being the one more commonly found near both freshwater and saltwater.

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They are fantastic climbers and hide in the canopy looking for birds’ nests and other unsuspecting prey

Sometimes mistaken as crocodiles, these monitor lizards can grow up to 3 metres long, with thick coarse skin ranging from a dusty grey to shiny black. As juveniles, they have a white belly and yellow spots on their back to help camouflage them from potential predators.

While monitor lizards often look like slow-moving relics of the prehistoric age, they can run surprisingly fast – especially when they are trying to get away from curious humans. When cornered they can bite, but otherwise they are usually the first to flee a confrontation with a 2-legged homo sapiens! They are also very good swimmers, powerfully swishing sideways like a snake at the water’s surface; they often hunt for their prey in water and along coasts and riverbank.

Monitor lizard’s common diets are small invertebrates, including birds, monkeys and the odd kitten, as well as crab, fish and frogs. They can also climb trees (to about 6-9 metres high!) in search of insects, nesting birds and eggs. They use their forked tongue to sense their prey before sneaking up to it.

They make homes in hollow trees, or dig holes in river banks and high-level ground, so be wary of sticking your hand into any in case you surprise one into biting you!

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