Water monitors typically respond to conspecifics with jerky flicks of their heads that can signal a range of intentions from "Get your arse of the basking platform" to "Wanna fuck?" Healthy numbers of the giant lizards lurk around the visitor centre of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, where they inspire amazement from suburban warriors and arouse the appetites of displaced countryfolk who remember the taste of meat from the beaten bush. The freshwater pond by the lodge offers a safe haven from the big bamboo river and its floating population of estuarine crocodiles, though only a measure of respite from nippy otters who vie with the varanids for prime tanning spots on the raised bund.
Having become accustomed to the presence and din of human visitors, the members of this population conduct their affairs with little regard for the prying eyes of naked apes. This sanguinity extends to episodes of intraspecific competition for space, mates and other resources. With the resident otters on duty elsewhere in the park last Saturday afternoon, the mustelids' favourite pool was lorded over by the languorous reptiles, including a mid-sized pair who swam in precopulatory promixity towards a sheltered bank with overhanging foliage. The tryst did not go unnoticed, however, and a larger individual paddled a bee's line to the hopeful couple, causing the latter to break off and splash for higher ground.
A little later, two robust lizards hogged the limelight in the outer pond that greets visitors to the reserve. Spectators soon gathered to witness the battle from the banks and in the comfort of a well-placed function room. Indistinguishable in size and ire, the saurians clung to each other, their backs raked with fresh scars in pink and grey. Blood streamed from the mouth of one fighter and low rasps could be heard at times from the tense, taut bodies of granular beauty. From the shallow mud by a corner of water hyacinths, the struggle entered a fit of falls as each lizard toppled and twisted back to catch its breath and re-secure its grip on its rival.
Neither lizard showed any inclination to give up or give in, so the fight continued beyond the attention span of most observers as the two entered the deeper water below the pond's sea apple sapling and later vanished under the boards of the bridge. With little to indicate the presence of asymmetries that might favour one wrestler over the other, it was a game of attrition that defied expectations of what mere cold-blooded belly crawlers were capable of and offered fodder to theories that predict prolonged conflict between combatants of equal power and limited access to information. The result is a costly encounter of claws and cuts that saps the strengths of each adversary and renders both vulnerable to infection and infestation. But in its raw fury and largely silent screams, the skirmish raised before modern eyes the brief spectre of bipedal clashes between thundering giants that transpired in deep time and still take place in the wild and willful minds of tyrants asleep.