Spotting a magnificent sand monitor (Goanna)

Description of Goannas

The Australian sand monitor (Varanus gouldii) is also called Gould’s monitor or colloquially ‘Goanna’. There are two different subspecies: Varanus gouldii gouldii and Varanus gouldii flavirufus (which is a smaller-sized subspecies). V. gouldii gouldii is distributed nearly all over Australia except for the southeastern- and southwestern coastlines and Cape York. And V. gouldii flavirufus is living in the desert interior only.

They have a distinctive coloration with yellow circles and black marks on their bodies. In the interior of Australia, they are omnipresent and – besides Dingoes – top terrestrial predators. Dingoes are the apex top predators and hold Goannas in check. But Dingos get heavily persecuted by farmers and are therefore thinner spread in many areas. Sand monitors (Goannas) are far more common and put therefore heavy pressure on all other smaller species.

Goannas have venom glands in their jaws

These monitor lizards kill their prey by bleeding with their sharp teeth. Up to 2005, it was a dogma, that Goanna teeth carried a high bacteria load from eating carrion. Research however found that year that this was wrong. One long gland channel runs on every jaw behind the teeth. This gland channel contains venom with similar properties to rattlesnake venom. But the teeth are not directly connected to that channel and therefore Goannas can’t inject it. It is only transmitted via salvia and leads humans to a long-festering wound.

Personal experience with a majestic Goanna

The above photos were taken when I was on an exploratory drive in the outback in between Menzies and Sandstone in Western Australia. Far in the distance and off the track I saw two kangaroos grazing. And I wanted to take some photos of them. Left my 4WD next to the track and walked towards them. Finally, there was only one dense bush in between me and the kangaroos. I used this bush to mask my approach.

Creeping closer to get a good shot, I was about three meters apart from the bush, when a loud hiss froze my bones. Directly under the bush and in the shade lingered a big Goanna, who didn’t like me coming closer. I just remained where I was and enjoyed this Australien scene of two Roo’s grazing and directly in front of me this majestic Sand monitor. When coming closer, he whipped his tail very forcefully towards me but did not connect. Still closer, he got up onto his two hind legs and ran like a saurian into the scrubland.

Lessons learned with Goannas

  • When stalking, not only check out the distance but also regularly the areas around you.
  • Respect the warning zone (3rd zone) of animals and don’t get closer after receiving their warning. Getting into the critical zone (4th zone) results in ‘Fight or Flight’.
  • We should enjoy the beauty of undisturbed animals in their comfort zone (1st zone). If not possible, just stay within the alert zone (2nd zone) instead of heading into warning- and critical zones.

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