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Water monitors; implications in forensic death investigations


K. M. T. B. Gunethilake,

Provincial General Hospital, Ratnapura, LK
About K. M. T. B.
Consultant Judicial Medical Officer
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M. Vidanapathirana

University of Sri Jayewardenepura, LK
About M.
Professor, Department of Forensic Medicine, Faculty of Medical Sciences
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Introduction: Outdoor postmortem animal scavenging is frequent and the predators responsible vary from ants, foxes, bluebottles to monitor lizards. Postmortem scavenging by water monitors is not uncommon. The water monitor (Varanus salvator) is a large lizard native to South East Asia. The sub species V.s salvator, is limited to Sri Lanka and are efficient carnivores and scavengers. Therefore, there is significant impact on forensic death investigations


Case report: Case 1: A woman went missing. A vigorous search lead to the recovery of the body in a river, surrounded by water monitors. Injuries on the limbs simulated cut injuries. The skull had a depressed slashed cut exposing brain matter. Case 2: The dead body was located by searching along a path formed by water monitors. The neck injuries simulated cut throat. These two cases are discussed to highlight the medico-legal implications of water monitors in forensic death investigations.


Conclusion: The presence of water monitors can be helpful in locating a missing body. However, it is necessary to interpret postmortem features cautiously in such cases as injuries caused by water monitors may result in artifacts, make injury interpretation difficult, make identification difficult, pose challenges to ascertaining the cause of death, and move objects from the scene.
How to Cite: Gunethilake, K.M.T.B. and Vidanapathirana, M., 2016. Water monitors; implications in forensic death investigations. Medico-Legal Journal of Sri Lanka, 4(2), pp.48–52. DOI:
Published on 27 Dec 2016.
Peer Reviewed


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