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 Post subject: Borneo Dispatches #35: Two Malayan Racers - A Three-Act Play
PostPosted: April 19th, 2012, 9:37 pm 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
Posts: 3179
Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
No, I'm not talking about the drivers at the Sepang Formula 1 Circuit over in West Malaysia. I'm talking about one of South-East Asia's most common diurnal snake species - the Malayan Racer, aka Yellow-Striped Ratsnake, aka Coelognathus flavolineatus.

Act One:

Just an hour before I discovered the epic Red-headed Krait on my last cruise in the Kuching hinterland, I had found on the same road a 140-cm C. flavolineatus that had just been hit by a vehicle. It was bleeding from one nostril and lay stunned on the asphalt. I had no idea about the extent of its injuries, but after picking it up, it slowly regained some composure and eventually started crawling around a little. There's a reason why I have "MOTHER TERESA" tattooed on the inside of my lower lip, and I took the snake back home for a few days of warmed-up mice and general TLC at our Snake Hotel & Hospital. I shouldn't have worried too much, for although he didn't fancy the frozen rodents (he strangled the first one until the mouse busted its guts, then ignored the mess, and never even took a look at the second mouse), his spirits came back the very next day, and nothing reminded one of his traffic accident anymore.

That was the first racer.

Act Two:

Four days later, I had just finished breakfast and was fixing to put on my herping boots, I spied a foot-long black snake trying to move on the smooth white tiles under our dining room table. A cascade of mixed feelings assaulted me:
"This can't be true. There can't be a snake in my house. Of course it can, dumbass, this is Borneo, and people tell you all the time how snakes enter their houses. This one looks like the racer in the terrarium. Has it escaped? No,that can't be either - this one's so much smaller. Was the racer I brought home...gravid? Can't be, this thing under the table doesn't look like a neonate; those are slimy and sorta tiny. Face it, old buddy - a snake has finally entered your house, just like in those stories you've been hearing since Day One...".
Damn. I wasn't sure what species it was, so I first tried to move the snake onto the table by means of my trusty mini-hook. No luck, it kept jumping off. Grabbing it was out of the question: I had no idea what I was looking at, and even if it was a harmless species, the qualifier "harmless" was losing its qualification real fast, because the last time I had seen such an aggressive little snake was during an encounter with a six-month old Chinese Cobra back in Taiwan. What fire! What spirit! It kept laterally flattening its neck, bending it into a double-S, and snapping with tremendous gusto at anything that dared get too close. All adulation aside, there was no way I would touch that thing with my bare hands, even though I was now sure of the species. (Yes, I'm a wimp. But a wimp that lives to tell all these tales...) With a two-pronged approach of mini-hook and oven mitt (with a lovely fruit print, I might add) I finally maneuvered the snake into an empty pickle jar, punched a few holes in the cap and went out to buy a second terrarium.

That was the second racer.

Act Three:

We are close friends with a Kuching-based European family whose young son, Thomas, is not only very bright, but, like his parents, also has a burning passion for everything nature. This kid puts tiger leeches on his own flesh, just to observe what they do and how they do it. There's a young Alfred Wallace in the making, and he is certainly blessed to be spending a few formative years in glorious Borneo. Whenever we have herptile lodgers at home, we ask Thomas and his parents to come over and see the menagerie du jour from up close. After the family had arrived last night, I opened the show with the words "Now I will demonstrate why most herpetologists do not lead long and healthy lives" and removed the juvie ratsnake from its tank. No oven mitts or other foo-foo geegaws this time, just my bare hand, because I wanted Thomas to get the unmasked experience. Predictably, the snake came out all guns blazing and immediately hammered my hand with a furious staccato of multi-needle hits. Sadly, its teeth were too small to draw blood. I say "sadly", not because I'm a masochist or in pathetic need of human compassion, but because I had wanted the boy to see that even such small animals can wreak quite a bit of havoc. That lesson had failed, but the upshot was that I now thought it a good idea to ask Thomas if he wanted to see how a bite from a (non-venomous, small, but many-toothed) snake felt. True to his hardy explorer spirit, he agreed without blinking an eye, and soon the snake had a new chew toy. It was such a wonderful sight to watch the kid's face go from initial discomfort (they do sting a bit, those wee bites) straight to Stout Victorian Naturalist mode, pushing the pain from his mind and concentrating instead intensely on the observation of the specimen at hand (pun not intended).

After a few hands-on/on-hand shots we tried to calm the reptile by placing a plastic cup over him (by that time we knew it was a boy because he had flashed his twin weenies a few times for extra shock effect). That didn't go so well. As soon as the snake was in the dark, it burst out from under the rim and went straight for the nearest piece of human flesh. And no matter what we did, he would not calm down. Since we had another snake to present, and as it was a school night, we decided to leave the photo session at that and try our luck with the bigger specimen.

To my great joy, the big snake still displayed the mellow disposition he had shown the night I had found him. It seemed to be a genuine character trait, rather than the result of a head injury, and it was a joy to handle him. He did musk a tiny bit at the beginning, but that was just more manna for Thomas' insatiable scientific hunger. The snake went from hand to hand, calm as a draft horse, but like its younger conspecific, it would not consent to sitting down on the table I had so lovingly laid out with banana leaves, to provide us with a full-body photo op without a human hand in every shot (I'll try that again when we release the two snakes on Saturday. Watch this space!)

Here are, in chronological order, the photos of the two Coelognathus flavolineatus:

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Yes, that's staged. You can always tell by Mr. Goofy's countenance...
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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #35: Two Malayan Racers - A Three-Act
PostPosted: April 20th, 2012, 6:24 am 
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Joined: March 22nd, 2012, 6:19 pm
Posts: 470
Beautiful snakes Hans. I love how they act like the Ratsnakes here in the U.S

Justin


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #35: Two Malayan Racers - A Three-Act
PostPosted: April 21st, 2012, 2:43 am 
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Joined: February 6th, 2011, 9:09 pm
Posts: 466
Location: Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China
What a noble rescue.. How fast are those when they aren't stunned?

That Thomas has a devilish look about him. There's no telling what kind of trouble he'll get into if he enjoys getting bit just to observe it. :lol:


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #35: Two Malayan Racers - A Three-Act
PostPosted: April 21st, 2012, 3:12 am 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
Posts: 3179
Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
MaartenSFS wrote:
What a noble rescue.. How fast are those when they aren't stunned?

Too fast. The big one got away before I could take pix today during their release.

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That Thomas has a devilish look about him. There's no telling what kind of trouble he'll get into if he enjoys getting bit just to observe it. :lol:

I'll let him know :-)


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #35: Two Malayan Racers - A Three-Act
PostPosted: April 22nd, 2012, 5:35 pm 
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Joined: February 6th, 2011, 9:09 pm
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Location: Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China
That's what I thought. It's actually pretty damn difficult to get your vehicle to a full stop, grab your snake hook, and get the snake before it's gone. :?

Don't encourage him too much. :P


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #35: Two Malayan Racers - A Three-Act
PostPosted: April 22nd, 2012, 11:34 pm 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
Posts: 3179
Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
I was actually releasing it from a bag :-)


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #35: Two Malayan Racers - A Three-Act
PostPosted: April 23rd, 2012, 7:22 am 
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Joined: February 6th, 2011, 9:09 pm
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Location: Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China
I know, but I mean in general. I lost two snakes in two days last week cruising.. :oops:


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