I have been fond of animals and wildlife since I was a child but my interest in monitor lizards started when I came upon many that live around my home airport. Seletar Airport is like a wilderness area. Most Singaporeans have never explored the vast area that surrounds the airport except for the two golf courses situated there. Driving around, they usually get lost and I have bailed out a few with directions! Taxi drivers inevitably get lost going to any other area of the airport except a few of them who only know how to get to the main passenger terminal.
The vast grassy areas, shady trees and water hazard created for the golf courses and the Seletar reservoir itself has provided ideal conditions for the Asian monitor lizards to live. That’s where I met a fair share of them, either basking around or lazily taking an early morning walk on the golf links. My fascination for these creatures prompted me to look for them in Sungei Buloh, about which I wrote earlier. We were sharing the same space, the monitors and us, but I did not for a minute think that I’d have the privilege of a close encounter.
It so happened that one day I spotted a baby monitor lizard just outside my office, on the grassy area, probably foraging for food. The lizard was fairly small and I had to go up close, really slow so as to not upset the creature, to be absolutely sure that what I was seeing was a monitor lizard and not something else. It was obviously a baby and I then stopped to look around and make sure mama wasn’t around to bite me in the backside while I stalked her baby. My colleagues kept a watch as well, how nice of them, they'd have run away if they'd spotted mama for sure.
Many days went by and the baby monitor still stayed around the same area and we never saw the mother, if at all she was around. We decided that she was going to be our mascot(I think she’s a female because she’s so cute). She did not seem to be perturbed by being so close to humans and she endeared herself to us even more by her proximity. I decided that she be named Molly. I just took the first half of Monitor and first part of Lizard resulting in MO-LI, a little corruption of that word resulted in ‘Molly’ a perfectly girly name at that.
One day, we were returning from lunch and found her inexplicable stuck behind our air conditioning compressor. Whacking myself on the back of my head for not having my camera handy, I had to quickly dig out the mobile phone to take some pictures of Molly from up-close. The phone provided poor quality pictures but something is better than nothing. I had done a bit of research on the net about the way molly lives and their general behavior. When approached at close quarters by other species that seem like predators to them, the monitors are known to puff their head, puff their necks (like a sack hanging from the throat) and emit a hissing sound. They are also known to use their long whip like tail to lash out. Well, that’s what molly did to me when I got too close to her from under the aircon compressor. She did all of the above and then turned her backside and whipped me so hard that I had her tail indentation on my fingers for a while! It felt like a leather whip to be exact. My close encounter left me completely thrilled and elated.
The puffed up throat!
I’d never been whipped by an animal before, not unless you count the swipe a leopard took and the ‘Mrs’ joyfully (another animal aficionado) took pictures of that, with the paw midair and me with a silly grin dodging it! Since that animal wasn’t a wild one and the swipe had not connected to any part of me, I guess I can’t count that one as close encounters of the third kind (sorry Spielberg). But let’s not get sidetracked here. Molly left a deep impression on me (literally) and my respect for all species other than our own was reinforced.
Molly was the inspiration for me to go and look for more of them in Sungei Buloh. I saw Molly yesterday, she’s grown a bit more and she was lazily walking on the grass. When we stopped the car to see her, she stopped in her tracks to look back at us before sauntering away. I hope she hangs around here for a long time, becomes 7 feet long and continues to be our mascot.