There are at least 4 different species of monitor lizard in this area of Thailand. The most common is the Asian Water monitor lizard which can grow to lengths of up to almost 2 meters long, normally they weigh a little more than 50 kg, in extreme cases monitor lizards up to 90 kg have been spotted in Thailand! Despite their size and their apparent ugliness, monitor lizards in Southeast Asia are not considered dangerous to humans. That said they will defend themselves fiercely if they feel threatened. They have strong tails and large claws and teeth that can cause nasty injuries should they feel the need to attack. They are very quick both on land and in the water, just remember that a monitor lizard will usually prefer to run away when faced with human activity.
Monitor lizards are subaquatic, opportunistic hunters that will eat almost anything. Including rodents, fish, birds eggs, and carrion. They are often found in lowland or wetland areas close to fresh or brackish water. In Thailand monitor lizards have earned themselves several nicknames. One of the most common is a derogatory term that is often used as an insult to others whereas the more poite members of society will refer to the monitor lizards as the “silver and gold animals”. Another nickname is “chicken eater”. Both this name and the more offensive nickname can be traced back to when the Thais lived a more traditional lifestyle and would wake up in the morning to discover that the monitor lizards had eaten their domestic animals.
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I was talking to a couple who were on holiday in Khao Lak the other day, and they were telling me a story about something that happened in their resort a few days previously. They were sitting at the pool bar enjoying their pina coladas, when suddenly they heard a lot of splashing behind them. They turned around and were surprised to see people rushing out of the pool as if it was shark infested! Meanwhile the barman could be heard laughing over the sound of the cocktail shaker. It took them a few confused moments to realise that the pool wasn’t in fact shark infested. However in the middle of the pool there was a creature that looked suspiciously like a small crocodile leisurely making its way towards the shallow end.
After a few moments of confused panic some hotel staff came and drove away the intruder, with the help of a stick and an old sack, leaving this couple and the rest of the resort patrons to wonder what on earth was going on as they ordered another gin and tonic to help calm their nerves.
The funny thing is, this is not the first story like this I have been told. It might not even have been the first time that week! The truth is that your beautiful Khao Lak hotel was built in the jungle. It might not look like it but go back a few years and you can almost guarantee that your hotel room was once a luxurious bunch of trees that was home to a very different type of primate visitor. The ‘dragon’ that went for a cool off in the pool that day was not a crocodile or an alligator. It was in fact a monitor lizard.
Monitor lizards have very few natural predators. That being said when this couple asked me what I thought the hotel staff did with the one they caught in the pool I was honest and told them that it was probably one of two options. Number one – they released it into the wild, a safe distance from the hotel. Or option number two – they made a big curry. I know which one I would put my money on. Although monitor lizard meat can be a bit tough and bony, with the right curry paste it can actually work quite well. It tastes like chicken after all.
These Asian water monitor lizards are a common enough sight all over Thailand, but especially here in Khao Lak. So don’t be surprised if you see what looks like a mini crocodile crossing the road in front of you. And remember, if one does join you for a swim, be careful not to spill your drink.