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The Varanidae; a family of lizards of which the Komodo dragon is the largest. This one, the water monitor (Varanus niloticus) is the largest lizard in Africa. The other one we have is the rock monitor (Varanus albigularis) a heavy lizard – often the heavier of the two.

There are about 70 recognised species ranging in size from about 20cm to 10-foot all part of the only genus in the family which is called Varanus

Varanus sort of means lizard in Arabic (waral or waran) and then all sorts of theories like monitor because they tend to stand in an alert almost as though monitoring their surroundings. The Latin word monere means to warn – and they do hiss! So if you combined the Arabic and Latin names you may end up with monitor lizard. In South African local lingo we use the term leguaan or likkewaan which is basically Dutch for iguana.

Monitor lizards have a forked tongue – used to hunt and find food. These forked tongues work in tandem with the Organ of Jacobson – an olfactory organ situated on the roof of the mouth. So the messages come in on the left and on the right, and that means accurate directions to the closest fast food outlet.

A bit of creative (behavioural/comparative) license for me is that monitor lizards (not all) but more than we think, practice facultative parthenogenesis. – This is the term used for females that normally reproduce sexually but undergo asexual reproduction because of a lack of viable males or males that cannot produce viable offspring. I guess this response can be compared to…well! You’ll need to be on the gamedrive vehicle with me when facultative parthenogenesis suddenly becomes of great interest to my female human guests as a viable alternative to…Hilarious, sometimes humour is the best medicine but not when it comes to traditional medicine and folklore. In Pakistan the genitals of monitor lizards are used in black magic practices – perhaps attributed to parthenogenesis. But the skin and meat are widely used in local medicine all over the world, and leather in western apparel.

Sadly our continued demand for body parts, skins and exotic pets have resulted in a serious decline in populations of monitor lizards across the globe.

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