The dragon that got away!
Another one out of the old box! Over 20 years ago before I had a digital camera I was on a adventure travel trip exploring western Malaysia. We spend quite some time in it's rainforests which are absolutely amazing! We saw lots of wildlife, many kinds of giant spiders, various monkeys, Malayan Civet., sambar deer, Wild boar, elephants, beautiful birds, Tree monitors and many water monitor lizards.
Towards the end of the trip I took a week to relax on the island of Penang. After a few days of hanging out at the beach I started to get the itch again of needing to explore.
Luckily there was the Penang national park just a short bus ride away. For the remainder of my time there, every day I would go for a 3 hour hike in this small but beautiful national park.
It was a beautiful place with turtles nesting on the beaches, monkeys everywhere, lots of birds and big giant ants that were eating frogs. At one point we even came across a fresh small kill on the path with the predator still right there in the bushes to the point that we could hear it breathe. What it was we never found out.
I think it was on the third day that we stopped at this nice wooden bridge overlooking a small 5 meter/16 foot wide shallow sandy river. I leaned on the side of the bridge staring at the crystal clear stream. I started to get this feeling that something was not right. Something in this picture in front of me did not make sense.
I found myself staring at this shape that looked like a fallen palm leaf. Long and wide green and yellow it lay there from the bushes almost reaching the middle of the stream.
It then hit me! What I was looking at was not a palm leaf! It was an enormous tail! Peering in to the bushes I then noticed that this tail was attached to the biggest water monitor lizard I had ever seen. To say that it was big is understatement. It was huge, no... gargantuan!
In all this excitement and trying to get our video camera ready in a panic we made a bit too much noise and the enormous lizard ran away through the undergrowth with a lot of noise crashing through the forest flattening and breaking the bushes in its path.
We were amazed at what we saw and it was almost unbelievable. Up to that point we had seen already many monitor lizards, we were no strangers with this species as we saw close to 50 during that trip. While most were around the 1 meter/3 feet range we also seen a few bigger ones that reached 1.8 meters or 6 feet in length. This Water Monitor Lizard however was much bigger and close to the size of a very big Komodo Dragon.
So how big was it? My minimum estimation at the time was 2.5 meter/8.2 feet, that said I really think that it was a bit over 3 meters/10 feet in length and at absolute max 3.5 meters/11.5 feet.
Even more so this enormous Water monitor was built big and heavy almost like a Komodo dragon.
Water Monitor lizards are the 2nd biggest lizards in the world after the Komodo dragon. Both species can reach similar lengths even tough in general the Water monitor does not reach 8 feet plus lengths as often as the Komodo dragon does.. The real big difference however is in their mass and weight. There is a huge mass difference between an 8 foot Komodo dragon or an 8 foot Water Monitor Lizard. So the fact that this Water Monitor lizard was built so heavy and robust made it even more amazing.
I have no doubt that what we witnessed would have been a recordholder for the biggest Water monitor lizard.
Over the years I kept thinking about this animal and why it had gotten so big. I have come to the following conclusions:
Penang Island does not have any other large predators where it has to compete with or could be attacked by. This animal literally reigned supreme as the islands apex predator make it grow in size. Similar to why Sri Lanka Leopards are so big since they do not need to compete with lions or Tigers on the island.
While the island lacks big predators it has an abundance in prey species varying from smaller mammals to deer.
It kept its fear for humans. ultimately I believe that was his real success. Everywhere we went there were monitor lizards and none of them were scared of humans. This caused them to be killed on occasion while often living from human scraps. This enormous lizard however was different, it did not want to be seen and was hiding from us in the bushes and ran away as soon as it realized we were on to it. It was truly wild, it was on top of the food chain and it had been for many years because it kept its fear for humans.
Amazing memories which were unfortunately not captured on film. If we can learn anything from this encounter then it is to always be prepared with your camera, the most amazing things will happen when you least expect it. Do not miss an amazing opportunity like this!
(a smaller monitor lizard)