Researchers say the Asian water monitor is amongst the creatures likely to be hardest hit by climate change. Like other reptiles, they’re particularly sensitive to global warming because they regulate their body temperature by basking in the sun and cooling off in the shade.
It's thought about 20 percent of all lizard species will become extinct in the next sixty years.
And as development encroaches on the natural habitats of lizards, it’s becoming increasingly harder for them to survive. And on top of that, in Thailand water lizards are traditionally considered bad luck.
Kannikar Petchkaew reports from Bangkok.
It’s another tranquil morning here in Lumpini park, the biggest public park in Bangkok.
With 140 acres of shade and ponds, it’s an oasis in the middle of a concrete jungle, a welcome respite from the city’s heat. People are jogging, walking and lying comfortably on the green grass.
But there’s some unusual activity here this morning.
Dozens of men are running wild with ropes, nets and sticks in hand. They throw fresh fish on the ground, trying to tempt the lizards out of their hiding place.
After hours of chasing and hunting, they’ve got their catch: about thirty lizards. They throw brown sacks tight tied onto the back of waiting trucks and drive away.
Nipon is a long-time visitor to the park. He’s witnessed the morning catch and he’s angry, shouting out,
“Why are you doing that to them? They just live peacefully. And look, the way you tie their neck and drag them along. Is that what you do? They’ve never harmed anybody.”
Nipon likes seeing the lizards in the park. But not everybody agrees. Some Thai people believe the lizards are bad luck, so many people are scared of them. And It’s not surprising really, they’re about three metres long, with brown, lumpy skin and a long red tongue. They look a bit like a really ugly crocodile. It may explain why some visitors to the park started complaining to the authorities.
Suwanna works for Bangkok’s Environment department and she’s responsible for the catch. She insists they should be taking serious measures to control the Lizards.
“I do understand that they won’t harm the people but they do harm the environment. All nice garden we made. They destroyed our pond too,” she appealed.
But there’s a lot of disagreement about the city’s attempt to control lizard numbers. The water lizards are an endangered species and so authorities have to be very careful with how they control their numbers in city parks.
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Teunjai Nutdamrong is a wildlife specialist. She agrees the lizard population needs to be controlled, but thinks the city’s environment department is being too harsh.
“If we could find just 2 or 3 of their spawning places we could control hundreds of them. But to just get rid of them, that doesn’t help.” Nutdamrong said.
But Suwanna disagrees.
“They can live in the natural environment but they need to be controlled. I’m not sure we can do that efficiently if we just control their spawning,” Suwanna argued.
It’s thought about 400 water lizards have lived in the park for a long time. The catch we saw this morning took 30 of them to a wildlife rehabilitation centre 100 kilometres away, an environment that is not ideal for the lizards.
And in the chaos many lizards escaped the park and ran into the city. It’s feared many were killed by traffic and others won’t survive the harsh environment.
Bangkok was once a swampy village at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River and the natural habitat for the water Lizards and many other reptiles.
But as the city spread, concrete and paved roads transformed the city into an urban jungle, destroying the lizard’s natural environment. The lizards have survived by finding refuge in shady areas where they can protect themselves from the heat.
An hour away from Lumpini park at Silpalkorn University, Mu and Huang are feeding the Water Lizards happily swimming in the ponds. They come here every day and have even given the lizards their own names.
“Sometimes seven of them would climb up here,” says Huang.
“Sometimes it would be three or four of them. It depends. At midday when people have their lunch, the lizards would know and they would come up for the food.”
Huang has seen the Water Lizards ever since he started working here 20 years ago.
“I would feel strange if I didn’t see them each day. Where are they gone, I would ask everybody. People would ask where the lizards were whenever they disappeared. I would have chicken bones for them, and if they didn’t come to take it I would miss them,” Huang told me.
Just as Huang sees the lizards as friends, so does Mu. She says there’s no problem with the number of lizards here.
“We’ve lived together for decades. They’re not outnumbering us. They’re spread all over the campus. We don’t feel any threat from the number of lizards,” said Mu.
“In the old days they would live at the canal and mangrove forest, looking for fish in the natural way. Now that we live in their place, it’s no surprise that they would come close to us,” commented Huang.
Back at Lumpini park, the walkers and runners go on as usual. Only now they’re seeing fewer Water Lizards than before.
But the water lizards are already an endangered species protected by Thai law and the concern is if they’re being removed and if there egg supply is being destroyed by authorities they might eventually become extinct.
So while people are trying to survive in this chaotic city of Bangkok, so too are the water lizards of Lumpini park.
More in our climate change special from across Asia, check out these stories:
In Kabul, where rivers run dry
Dealing with India's mountains of e-waste
Reverse osmosis plants changing lives in Pakistan's Thar Desert