Hong Kong's giant lizards might be back

Hong Kong's giant lizards might be back

As Hong Kong grew as a city, the big reptiles died out. But some pet lizards have escaped and are living in the parks

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It would be good for the environment to have giant lizards back in Hong Kong.

Giant lizards were extinct in Hong Kong, but now one scientist says they might be coming back to the city's country parks.

Dr Gary Ades, who works for Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, said there are common water monitors, a large lizard native to South and Southeast Asia, in country parks. They were probably released or escaped from the illegal wildlife trade. And it was highly likely they were breeding in small numbers.

"This interests us on a conservation level because the monitor is probably one of our native species that went extinct, maybe a hundred years or so ago. So quite a few conservationists in Hong Kong would like to see it come back," he said.

"We're rooting for the few escapees. If they manage to survive our cool winters in Hong Kong, they've got the right genetic make-up. That's because some are from Malaysia and more tropical areas, and they probably won't survive the winter. But there may be a few out there that are doing OK."

Anthony Lau, who studies lizards at HKU, said monitors were popular pets in the city. Owners would buy them in pet shops and feed them mice, but would release them once they grew too big.

The water monitor is the world's second-largest lizard after the Komodo dragon, Lau said. An adult can grow to 2 metres in length, although there is a record of one monitor in Sri Lanka growing as long as 3.21 metres.

Both Ades and Lau agreed it would be good to see the lizards re-established in Hong Kong because they would help the ecosystem.

"They eat a lot of [dead animals] and they basically clean up the forest floor," Ades said.

Lau still isn't sure the lizards are back, though. "If the population is here, you should see different sizes, but all you see are adults," he said.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Hong Kong's giant lizards might be back

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