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Water dragons for real

September 14, 2010

Ketsanee and I have left the lovely island of Kooh Kood. We miss Tai, the young lady who was in charge of our villa, and who took such good care of us. We also miss the majestic White-bellied Sea-Eagle, the gorgeous sunsets and Morris’ enthusiastic wine suggestions. We hope we have paid back Soneva Kiri’s great hospitality with some useful advice for jungle treks and garden designs!

Back in Bangkok we visited some gardens. The Rama IX garden does have several indigenous trees labeled with scientific names, but such information might only be useful for a botanist. We went to the Floating Market too. This is a touristic place which is crowded during the cold season. This time of the year it was easy to get around. Although most of the vendors focus on crap souvenirs of the same type as those sold along the Sukhumvit Road, there are gems. For instance, at one stop we were offered coconut toddy (the sugary liquid that comes out from a cut flower panicle) and coconut sugar (toddy boiled for two hours). Along with honey, this source of sugar is older than sugar cane, which was introduced from New Guinea. We also tried the local foods, such as ‘Gloaj djap’, a delicious soup with broad noodles, blood cubes, coriander, egg, tofu, liver and spring onion. For dessert, we ate ‘Kanom Klok’. Without Ketsanee, I am sure I would have missed both the food and the coconut sugar tasting, just seeing the crap. It was interesting to see that the village is so big, and the canals so many. In one of the busiest canals we saw a young Reticulated Python swimming among the boats. In a more quiet area of the village our boatman suddenly shouted “crocodie same same” , and a second later I heard Ketsanee’s shrill “WHAT is it?”. It was the head of a Water Dragon, a monitor lizard named Varanus salvator. It was really big, the body at least 150 cm. We saw three more at two more places, so I figure it is fairly common. We never managed to get closer than three meters, or they would quickly seek shelter in the denser water hyacinth areas. It is a sign of wealth when large wildlife can live next to the villagers. In other places of Asia I am sure the monitor lizards would have been killed and eaten. Thanks to the visiting tourists and the income from selling crappy souvenirs, people do not need to kill wildlife for their survival.

At Lumpini park, we saw the water dragons again. One specimen was big, but there were many young juveniles, showing no fear of me. I followed a specimen for quite some time, and he showed me how to search for prey using the snake-like tongue, how to kill large insects and plunge the long head into a crack to catch a rotten tomato. The water dragon can be distinguished from the similar Bengal Monitor lizard (Varanus bengalensis) by the nostrils being placed nearer the tip of the nose than to the eyes. In the Bengal Monitor, the nostrils are closer to the eye than to the tip of the nose. Surprisingly, we also saw two specimens of the Rice-field Terrapin (Malayemys subtrijuga). Terrapins are small fresh water turtles, and most of those you see in Thailand are the introduced American Red-eared Terrapin. The native Rice-field Terrapin has three characteristic ridges on the shield, and the head has white stripes, no traces of red. This shows that even city parklands may constitute refuges for endangered wildlife. Such refuges are very important to preserve until poverty has disappeared from the rest of the country, thereby enabling the restoration of the Thai nature.

Eric Danell

A juvenile water dragon is resting at Lumpini Park, Bangkok.

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