The change in seasons, from wet to dry (Northeast Queensland operates on a binary rotation rather than North America’s quaternary, or 4 season, year), literally occurred over night. The sky transformed from a clouded firmament into a blue abyss, and the sun beat down to dry up the earth. As the forest floor transcended from a muddy quagmire to walkable terrain, the monitor lizards came out to enjoy (in my opinion) the vastly improved weather conditions. And they came in droves. In my previous two months here, I had seen approximately a half dozen Lace Monitors (Varanus varius). In the first week of the dry I encountered at least ten different individuals on site, including one large male twice. This brings me to my story…Being secluded in the rainforest obviously entails some logistical issues which often require altering daily “house-keeping” practices. Following meals, we collect all of our food scraps and deposit them in one of our very large compost piles located in a field abutting old growth rainforest. Following lunch, I was carrying uneaten odds and ends of the chicken we had enjoyed down to the compost for deposition and heard a rumbling underneath the plywood that covers the pile. Upon approaching, a large (approximately 4 and a half feet from head to tail) Lace Monitor came screaming out of the hole only to stop 20 yards from me at the base of a large citrus tree. In an attempt to herd the lizard away from the tree, Andy and I circled around his west flank to hopefully flush him back into the open. The monitor, not impressed, started up the tree. I took off through the understory, leaped, and managed to grab his tail and pull him out of the tree. Yet being on a hill (the site is located at nearly 3,000 feet in elevation and has many steep hills and cliff faces) caused me to stumble backwards and lose hold of the lizard. He again took off for the tree, I again right behind. This time as I jumped up, I got a hold of the lizard’s tail and held on. This was my mistake. The monitor, determined not to be pulled down a second time (seemingly as stubborn as myself), held fast to the branch he had managed to reach. Yet the branch was nothing more than a porous, dust-filled decaying appendage of the living tree he so desperately was trying to climb. As I held on and began my descent back to the forest floor, the branch exploded into a cloud of finite saw-dust particles which instantly blinded me. Branch, lizard, and “captor” (yes, it must be placed in quotation marks) hit the ground in a massive heap of wood and flesh. As I somersaulted backwards down the hill, I felt the lizard crawl off of my chest, over my left shoulder, and heard him scurry away down into the gully. My momentum carried me only so far, and I finally came to a halt next to a large granite boulder. My pride hurt more than my body, I trundled back up the hill, refusing to accept defeat and promised that I would return and catch this monitor. The following day I returned to the compost pile, and found my adversary happily feeding inside once again. This time I quietly approached, slid off the top, and the chase was on. He once again took off in the same direction (towards that damned tree) but I ran him down before he exited the field, grabbed his tail, avoided a side swiping bite, and successfully captured the “one that got away.” Varanid vindication.
(I was not able to get a good enough internet connection to upload pictures.)