Some scaly fun

Some scaly fun

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An exhibition offers you the chance to see some exotic creatures and learn how to protect them, writes Zoe Mak

If the recent weather has left you feeling like you're stranded in a rain forest, make the most of the Amazon-like atmosphere and head over to Ocean Park for a display with a difference.

The park is showcasing what it claims is the city's largest lizard exhibition at Tai Shue Wan Plaza, featuring more than 20 fascinating species. We checked out some of the most unusual visitors.

The frilled lizard is known for its unusual appearance. It looks like any other lizard - until it is alarmed. Then it raises a large frill of skin around its neck to scare off attackers. If this doesn't work, it will run away on its hind legs.

The black tegu lizard lives in South America and the Caribbean. It can grow as long as 90cm and can live up to 16 years. It's an agile swimmer.

Black tegus are usually black with bands of whitish-yellow or gold spots, but the lizard on display is a one-of-a-kind pure black.

The giant one-horned chameleon has a lightning-fast tongue that can stretch up to 50cm to catch its prey. It can rotate its eyes in different directions for vision, and can change colour depending on its mood or reaction to a situation.

Another colourful creature, the Fijian iguana, is seen as unlucky in some parts of the islands from which it originates. Some tribes believe it is an evil animal, and if they touch one, they will lose their skin. But another tribe in Nanuyamalo, on Fiji's largest island, treats the lizard as its principal animal totem - a creature that protects them.

A spectacular species native to Hong Kong is the giant water monitor, which can measure up to 3 metres in length and weigh more than 50kg. It also lives in Southeast Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Brunei, India, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The giant lizard has a long, powerful tail and swims well: it can stay underwater for up to 30 minutes. It is extremely carnivorous: common prey includes birds, eggs and even human remains. They play an important role in the ecosystem, keeping their habitat tidy and controlling the population of their prey.

But these predators' lives are under threat from illegal logging, the clearing of mangrove forests, and being hunted for their meat and for medicinal purposes.

Charlie Young Yuet-mei, assistant curator of fresh water & reptile exhibits at Ocean Park, says several of these lizards are at risk due to habitat destruction and human activity.

For example, the common iguana, which comes from Central and South America, the Caribbean region and the coastal eastern Pacific, are popular delicacies as are their eggs. They are also used for crocodile bait and sold as pets. The sun gazer lizard is also a popular pet, but it is sold for dissection.

'Reptiles play an important role in our ecosystem. They feed on insects and rodents and help keep their populations under control, thus limiting their damage to crops,' Young says.

'On the other hand, lizards are also food to animals such as snakes, birds of prey and bigger mammals. If the lizard population goes down, the food chain may be disrupted, leading to imbalance in the ecosystem.'

Young says people can help by not leaving litter when they hike or spend time in the countryside. 'Polluting the environment would disrupt the ecosystem.'

She says Hong Kong is home to 21 different lizard species, including Bogadek's Burrowing Lizard.

Ocean Park is giving away five pairs of passes to visit these spectacular lizards. E-mail your full name, telephone number and address to yp@scmp.com with 'Lizards' in the subject line

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