African Tales – Seldom in de-Nile

Nile Monitor lizard (

October 13 – Martha Jean, Wayne Vail and I were out walking on the outskirts of Solusi Mission, which is about 30 miles from Bulawayo, the second-largest city in Zimbabwe. We were on an old native path and their little dog was up ahead carefully investigating the world, when suddenly he began to bark at something. As we got nearer, we saw that it was a Nile monitor, a large water-loving lizard that can grow up to 6 or 7 feet long. This one seemed to be about four feet long, still young but not afraid of the dog and was just lying there on the path waiting for it to go away.

Dale and actual lizard - like that safari hat?

Dale and the actual lizard – like that safari hat?

When it saw us approaching, it jumped up and tore off into the bush, while we followed as rapidly as possible. We saw it dive into a small pool of water and disappear. The pool was not large and seemed to be shallow, so presently I made a bare-footed entry into it and began feeling around with my feet in order to make contact with that lizard. Presently I found myself standing on it, hoping monitors do not bite under water. Reaching carefully down around my feet, I got a hold of its neck behind its head with one hand, and a hold of its body with the other, and lifted it up. Monitors can bite and scratch vigorously and their bites can cause infections but being young myself (about 12), I did not consider that seriously and was delighted to have caught myself a big prize.

We carried it home and there I took it into my bedroom, closed the door, and released it to see what it would do, and got up on my bed out of harm’s way. The lizard slowly wandered around the room, and then, to my great consternation, lay down right against the door… and stayed there. How was I going to get out with that toothy mouth lying there? Fortunately the door did not quite touch the floor and the lizard’s tail tip had slid underneath and was out in the hallway. I called to Mom for help and she came and grabbed that tail tip and held it so I could get off the bed and with the help of a pillow was able to re-capture my prize. Monitors use their tails as whips and will violently lash any enemy who gets close enough. So some credit to my mom!

I took the lizard outside and tied a length of strong string around its waist and now had it on a leash and tried to take it for a stroll. It did not stroll but instead stood up on its two hind legs and tried to bite me. Unable to turn to flee for fear of being bitten from behind, for a few moments there I just danced up and down, going nowhere but at least escaping those threatening jaws. Escape I did, and in due course managed to tether the monitor to something solid and walk away. Eventually it died, and when I went to skin it, I was quite amazed that its whole innards appeared to be one mass of still squirming tapeworms. A very yucky sight.

I never caught another monitor lizard, although on one occasion I thought maybe I was going to. Walking down the bed of a large African river in the dry season, I came across a pool at the foot of a high bank and disturbed a large monitor that fled into the pool for safety. Standing at pool’s edge, I was trying to make up my mind whether to wade in and test its depth and then search for the monitor, when from the bank up above came a great crashing and out into space over my head a crocodile came flying and landed with a splash in the pool. In my alarm I did not gauge its length very well and would guess it might have been an eight-footer.

Right then my plans to go wading were abandoned and I left the crocodile and monitor at peace in their pool. Crocodiles and monitors do not get along very well, for monitors love to eat crocodile eggs and are said to be good controllers of crocodile populations thereby. I have since read that large monitors can be nasty customers and inflict bad wounds that usually get infected, and so can consider myself fortunate to have never clashed with a big one. – DALE

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