Aussie photographer's rare encounter with 'absolute monster' in forest: 'Massive shock'

The 26-year-old said it was 'super exciting' to see the bigger-than-usual reptile.

A chuffed wildlife photographer has detailed his "pretty rare encounter" with a mammoth goanna which he said was "super exciting", particularly since it was bigger than most he's ever seen — but also they're not often spotted.

Nick Volpe, who moved to Darwin from Melbourne five years ago, was exploring the Mary River National Park in Darwin with his mate and fellow photographer Reef Coakley — who was pictured with the reptile — when suddenly they came to a halt as the 1.5-metre sand goanna, or monitor, wandered slowly across the road before racing up a tree beside them.

The 26-year-old said they're usually "very shy animals" and are rarely active during the warmer weather. "It's so hot here in the Top End," the Darwin local told Yahoo News Australia. Particularly in December when the photos were taken.

"A lot of the time, they're very choosy about when they're active which is usually a cloudy day or early morning or late afternoon (when it's not so hot)," he explained. So it was a "massive shock" and certainly unexpected.

Left: Man wearing blue shirt and hat standing in national park near mammoth sand goanna on tree. Right: Sand goanna on ground in national park.
Wildlife photographer Nick Volpe and his friend Reef Coakley (pictured) saw the lizard in Mary River National Park in Darwin. Source: Nick Volpe

NT known for 'chunky' goannas

While monitors are pretty big as it is, this one was particularly "chunky" he explained. So much so the pair first mistook it for another species — a yellow-spotted monitor — which is often bigger.

"It is very big for the species that it is," he said. "They do get to about a meter long normally, which is still big, but they're normally very skinny goannas. Here in the top end we just grow some real monster ones, which is amazing, like real chunky ones."

Invasive cane toads have wiped out lizard species

Yellow-spotted monitor lizards are "one of the biggest in Australia," but they've "pretty much disappeared" from the Top End and aren't very common anymore. Cane toads are largely to blame for wiping out the species, as they're a primary food source, with the cane toads' toxin sadly causing death.

"Toads have had a huge impact on goannas in northern Australia, especially in the NT," the wildlife enthusiast explained. "We've had four species of goanna really impacted, the yellow-spotted goanna is one. Which is what I thought it was.

"Twenty years ago, you'd be able to see yellow-spotted guys fairly frequently in the Top End. I've been here for six years now and I've only ever seen one in the Darwin area, so really rare," he continued.

Wildlife photographer Nick Volpe and his girlfriend holding snake.
Nick Volpe (pictured) moved to Darwin with his girlfriend (pictured) from Melbourne five years ago. Source: Nick Volpe

"Because the frog abundance is so high in the wet season, animals, especially those on the floodplains, will turn to eating frogs. And when cane toads came around they couldn't tell the difference and the poison pretty much knocks out the animal completely, which is really sad".

Sand monitors on the other hand have "a bit more of a varied diet" than other species, so "are still holding on". "And as you can see from my photo, that one's a very healthy one," said Volpe. "So he's been eating a lot of things, like other lizards and likely snakes".

Aussies amazed by 'wonderful 'sight

Volpe recently shared a snap of the lizard on Facebook saying it's an "absolute monster". "Look at the size of it," he said. "Bloody awesome," one said in response while another agreed it's "beautiful".

"Good to see the toads haven't cleaned up all the big'uns," expressed a third. "Wonderful to see one that big and healthy. Obviously, the population is starting to recover after 20-odd years of living with cane toads," another shared.

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