In the pollution sodden car infested inferno of Bangkok terms like wildlife conservation are rarely heard and if heard usually applied to the Mercedes and 4 by 4 drivers. But down a small Soi in Banglampoo in a dirty canal that one could only term a somewhat rancid open sewer, nature is doing what nature does best, defying logic, and has created one of the most unlikeliest wildlife sights in Thailand.
Everyday on the small bridge that strands Klong Rop Krung at the entrance to Wat Sung Wet, beside the fort that join Phra Arthit road to Phra Sumen, locals and tourists alike can be seen gawping at the sight of the canals large Water Monitor Lizard population. Seeing these timid beasts in the wild is a rare and usually fleeting treat, but at Klong Rop Krung the lizards seem used to human observers and sit on the concrete pillars and mountains of rubbish for hours on end.
One keen local observer, Napaporn told me she passes the bridge every morning and hasn’t yet failed to see at least one lizard, she estimates there are at least a dozen in the family. A resident foreigner originally from Africa is a keen daily observer and holds the record of seeing five lizards together at one time, my record in a week’s observation is only four. There are at least two huge adults over a metre and a half long, truly of crocodile proportions, two a smaller adult and several babies of differing sizes I have counted.
The lizards live under the concrete building with brown wooden roof to which there are several an underwater and above water holes in which after I went inside to enquire turned out to be an ice factory. They are usually best seen in the morning when the sun rains down on the canal until just after midday, their favourite place to sun worship is beside the small wooden family house.
Further investigating the ice factory I spoke to a worker and he informed me the part of the factory the lizards live under is the freezer section, these give off substantial heat, so as shade descend over the canal in the afternoon the lizards retreat into the heated water below the freezers. The nest under the ice factory doesn’t appear to be unique as I saw a large adult swimming 50 metres up the canal and disappear under a wooden house suggesting more nests upstream.
Water Monitor lizards are very common in the whole of South East Asia so afforded little protection unlike some other countries where they aren’t so common. The lizards are carnivores and strong swimmers, larger lizards can feed of mammals as large as a monkey. Though harmless to humans they are often mistaken for crocodiles and many village Thais will have a story of encountering one while swimming in the river and getting a big fright mistaking it for a crocodile.
In Thai culture where their name also happens to be one of the worst swear words in the language, calling another person one guarantees a fight. The word is also considered unlucky so Thais are reluctant to use it even to refer to the lizards themselves.
Sadly I really don’t know if these lizards will survive. They have perilled the journey to the canal, managed to adapt to living in water so polluted it shouldn’t really support life and overcome their timidity of people, but one factor always trumps nature, humans.
Sadly it has become local sport for local school children to stand on the bridge and hurl lumps of concrete at them. Usually boys in their early teens they hurl the pieces laughing and joking as they bounce off the lizards. On one occasion I witnessed the lumps of concrete were so large they were about half the size of a brick and not dropped but thrown with venom, if one had hit a baby it would have killed it instantly. These particular lumps were directed at an adult and would still have killed it if it hit it on the head, one only missing by centimetres. Sadly a later slab did impact the shoulder and the distressed lizard ran for cover. If were an isolated incident it would be a bad but it seems to be becoming a common daily event.
Videos of the Lizards