Veni. Vidi. Viper. Don't want to sound arrogant here, but at the rate I'm knocking off the hard-to-find species (just added a Sunda Pangolin to my mammal list last Thursday), it'll be just a matter of time until I find a frickin' Aptenodytes forsteri
crossing one of these mountain roads in full battle rattle. So much for my recent bellyachin' about herping in the tropics Trimeresurus borneensis
, the Bornean Leaf-nosed Viper (aka Bornean Palm Pitviper or Bornean Pitviper, depending whose books you read), is the only non-green viper around these parts, which explains why I seriously considered an acid flashback - two decades delayed - when the snake appeared in my headlights. Mottled-brown pitvipers with a mien like Eastwood's Man With No Name right before the big gunfight were a daily occurrence during my Taiwan herping days - only those were usually bigger and were called Protobothrops mucrosquamatus
, the Taiwan Habu. That snake is as abundant in Taiwan as green vipers (Tropidolaemus wagleri
) are here. But the only brown viper here, the leaf nose, was pretty much the stuff of campfire legends and therefore outside my herpetological knowledge scope for Sarawak. In fact, most of my locally born & bred friends here have never seen a T. borneensis
, and now I had one on my hook! Whew! That was an even fiercer rush than the fried noodles I had just tried to eat ten minutes earlier at a tiny village cafe. In my naivete I had implored the Malay proprietress to make the dish extra pedas
(spicy), please, because I like spicy, and Sarawakians as a rule don't cook with a lot of chilis. Well, said proprietress obviously didn't either, because she went totally weapons-grade with the little green bird's eye chilis, and the very first bite threatened to blow my brains straight out through all available cranial orifices.
And not long after this fearsome experience, still teary-eyed and runny-nosed, this little beauty got my pulse racing and my palms sweaty all over again. I didn't know what I had found, so my first move was to cover the snake with my bush hat, walk back to the car, and get out Indraneil Das' "Snakes And Other Reptiles Of Borneo". The only non-green Sarawakian viper in that book was T. borneensis
, but the picture showed a saffron-yellow snake, so that couldn't be it. The one on the road before me was mostly brown. Maybe it was some kind of juvenile form of the Tropidolaemus
gang. That seemed unlikely, though, I'd never heard of that. Calling my fellow Kuchingite Indraneil Das in person was also no option - as much as he loves to answer inane amateur herper calls from the field ("No, I think it's a mudsnake, Hans. Not a rare King Cobra morph. Yes, really. So sorry."), at 2300 hours he was surely either fast asleep or busy pillow-fighting his energetic young son. So my only choice was to shoot first and ask questions later.
The ensuing shoot was hampered by a very odd phenomenon: the ^%$#@! snake wouldn't stay on the ^%$#@! hook!! This was a pitviper, for crying out loud! By rights, it should have taken to the hook like a fish to water, what with its arboreal propensities! But no dice. The bastard kept sliding off the tool like some sort of arrow-headed krait, and I seriously thought it might be brain-damaged, until I got to the "ask questions later" part the next day, when consultation of a few more field guides solved the ID riddle and also taught me that snake is entirely terrestrial. This handicap was also the reason why I didn't dare to change to my 100mm macro - the beast was constantly on the move, and I didn't want to trigger any fang action with my shutter finger three inches from its heat sensors, something that's usually rather unproblematic with stationary vipers....