Monitor interns meet monitor lizards

Primeval creatures dart out from the shallows of the Nile river onto the rocky shores, sharp claws against rock. Grey tongues flick in and out of their mouths to sense for their prey. They prefer fish, crocodile eggs and rodents, but they don’t mind eating a stray bird that wanders too close.

Monitor lizards on the banks of the Nile in Uganda (Erica Gibson | The Media School)

Monitor lizards on the banks of the Nile in Uganda (Erica Gibson | The Media School)

The Nile monitor is the largest lizard in Africa, and a common sight among the banks of the Nile in Jinja, Uganda. When our group of Daily Monitor interns first spotted them from our tour boat, we thought they were water snakes because of the way their bodies undulate in the water, legs hidden beneath them.

Because Nile monitors are spotted dark yellow and black, they were hard to distinguish from the greenery on the riverbank. Our tour guide, Brian, had to point them out before we saw them. They look like small crocodiles, and their teeth are just are ominously sharp. Unlike crocodiles, they can climb trees and outrun humans over short distances. Luckily, monitor lizards do not often disturb humans.

While exploring the Nile, we also saw several different types of birds, including white-breasted and reed cormorants, the African open bill stork and the woodland kingfisher. Most of the birds along the river eat fish, and we saw several birds diving into the water to catch their meals.

All the wildlife we spotted on the Nile was beautiful, diverse and alien. The animals looked prehistoric and the flora was lush and dark green. We didn’t see any non-human mammals, but vendors on the rocky islands we passed sold paintings, pottery and carvings adorned with elephants and giraffes.

We’ll likely see those larger creatures, along with more Nile monitor lizards, in Queen Elizabeth National Park when we go on safari at the end of our trip.