KOTA KINABALU: Although abundant in Borneo, hardy monitor lizards, commonly referred to as biawak by Malaysians, need a stable forest environment to fully exploit their biological functions.
Scientists studying the biawak living in the Kinabatangan floodplains and around oil palm plantations have found that the biological functions of these monitor lizards are fully fulfilled when they are found in natural forest habitats.
The four-year study carried out by researcher Dr Sergio Guerrero-Sanchez and published in the journal PloS One recently found that although oil palm plantations offer a large amount of food, environmental conditions such as the lack of low vegetation and large areas of open sky and trees have not helped these large lizards to fully perform their ecological functions.
The study also observed that these lizards were unable to climb trees in oil palm plantations.
“These places were not practical to fulfill all of their biological functions. Therefore, the surrounding forest plays a fundamental role in the dynamics of the population ecology of water monitors, ”Sanchez’s research revealed.
“For over four years, my team and I have spent time capturing, sampling and tagging monitor lizards using GPS to answer several fundamental ecological questions.
“This showed that the number of lizards inhabiting the forests of the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is much greater than the number of individuals living in the oil palm plantations.
“Our study also suggests that the forest surrounding oil palm plantations provides the protection necessary to avoid antagonistic encounters, as well as to mate and reproduce,” added Sanchez, a former doctoral student at Cardiff University and the Danau Girang Field Center (DGFC).
He is currently a research fellow at the University College Sabah Foundation.
The Director of the DGFC, Professor Benoit Goossens, said that the study reinforces the need to protect the natural forest around the plantations and also underlines the urgency of creating forest corridors within the estates to establish a balanced dynamic of the animal community in the floodplains.
“We believe our results could be an example of what is happening with other species with similar preferences, but also that this may have implications for the prey community,” said Goossens, co-author of the article.
Sabah Wildlife Department Senior Officer Silvester Saiman said the monitor lizard was protected under Schedule 2 of the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Act 1997 and that hunting and collecting required a licence.