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‘Biawak needs a natural environment to grow’

KOTA KINABALU: Although found in abundance across Borneo, the hardy monitor lizards, popularly known to Malaysians as biawak, need a stable forest environment for them to harness their full biological functions.

Scientists studying the biawak living within the Kinabatangan flood plains and around oil palm plantations found that biological functions of these monitor lizards were fully fulfilled when they were within natural forest habitats.

The four-year study done by researcher Dr Sergio Guerrero-Sanchez and published on PloS One journal recently found that although oil palm plantations offer a large amount of food, the environmental conditions such as the lack of low vegetation and large areas of open sky and trees did not help these large lizards achieve their full ecological functions.

The study also observed that these lizards were unable to climb trees in the oil palm plantation setting.

“These places were inconvenient to fulfill all their biological functions. Hence, the surrounding forest plays a fundamental role in the dynamics of the water monitor population ecology,” Sanchez’s research revealed.

“During more than four years, my team and I spent time catching, sampling and GPS-tagging monitor lizards to respond to several fundamental ecological questions.

“It showed that the number of lizards inhabiting the forests of the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is much larger than the number of individuals living in the oil palm plantations.

“Our study also suggests that the forest surrounding the oil palm estates offers the necessary protection to avoid antagonist encounters, as well as to mate and breed,” added Sanchez, a former PhD student at Cardiff University and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC).

He is currently a research fellow at University College Sabah Foundation.

DGFC director Prof Benoit Goossens said the study reinforces the necessity of protecting the natural forest around the plantations and also highlight the urgency of creating forest corridors within the estates to establish a balanced dynamic of the animal’s community in the flood plains.

“We believe that our results could be an example of what is occurring with other species with similar preferences, but also that it may have some implications over the prey community,” said Goossens who co-authored the paper.

Sabah Wildlife Department senior officer Silvester Saiman said the monitor lizard was protected under Schedule 2 of the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, and that hunting and collection required a permit.

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