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 Post subject: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 6th, 2014, 6:38 am 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
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Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
It was a beautiful late Friday afternoon at 1.510655° North, 110.375350° East. The four-o’clock downpour had silkened the air, but instead of celebrating the coolness with a stroll around the nearby forest park, with a possible chance of watching one of those equatorial fairytale sunsets later on, I was chained to my desk, slogging through a two thousand-word translation of a Facebook poker game. Gambling bores me silly, translating online gambling software bores me sick, all the fun was outside while I was not, and with dinnertime approaching fast, I was at the gates of hypoglycemia, with dancing tandoori chickens teasing me before my inner eye. Not by any stretch of the imagination was I feeling like a million of whatever currency.

Until Nicole called.

Nicole is a twenty-something resident of Kuching and a veritable fountain of insight on everything Borneo: flora, fauna, tribes, customs – her knowledge puts many longhouse folks from the interior to shame. A remarkable feat for any person, and even more remarkable for Nicole because she grew up half a planet away from the rainforest, in a small Bavarian town shadowed by the Alps, from where she eventually emerged to become the only non-Malaysian in Sarawak working as a fully government-licensed tour guide.

Nicole knows of my snake sickness, and now she was going to disperse the cobwebs of my working man’s blues with a double-barreled shotgun. In blessed innocence of the effect her call would have on my poor little snake-lovin’ soul, she announced cheerily:

“I’m just returning from Bako National Park. In the ticket office at the boat jetty, there’s a big snake in a home-made cage. Some villager caught it in his house and brought it to the office; said he wants to release it in another national park next week. They say it’s a cobra, but I can’t verify that; couldn’t see it clearly. It was coiled up pretty tight, but it’s quite a thick snake, and I’d say at least seven feet long. They say it’s already been in that cage without water for two days. They plan to release it, but nobody has time for that before next week. Want to head over and see if they’ll give it to you?”

Thick, seven-foot snake, possibly a cobra? It couldn’t be, could it…?

An unholy mix of anguish and jubilance flooded my veins. “Nicole,” I said in a pinched voice that strained heroically against bursting out into a mad scream, “what color was the snake?”

“Darkish. But not really black, not like the spitting cobras.”

There are only two kinds of cobras on Borneo. The Equatorial Spitting Cobra (Naja sumatrana), glossy-black and seldom longer than four feet, is very common. In fact, it’s the most commonly encountered snake in the cities around the island. The other cobra, rarely spotted and even less frequently caught, is the King of Kings: Ophiophagus hannah. At a top length of eighteen feet, the King Cobra is the world’s largest venomous snake. Both common and genus name hint at a diet consisting almost exclusively of snakes (Ophiophagus = “snake eater”), including other kings, with the occasional monitor lizard thrown in for variety. A bite of this colossal serpent can contain enough venom to croak an elephant. Female Kings are the only snakes that build and fiercely guard nests for their eggs, and the species is said to possess almost mammalian intelligence.

Verily, they don’t call it the King for its rhinestone-studded jumpsuits.

I had never before set eyes on a live, wild O. hannah, and to say that this species was at the top of my bucket list would be the mother of all understatements. This species was my bucket list. After three years of year-round herping the island, the only Kings under my belt were two foot-long babies, each firmly pancaked to a hot country road. With every kingless day I spent in the jungle, my infatuation with the creature grew; in comparison, even my notorious durian obsession seemed like a casual diversion.

Immediately after getting off the phone with Nicole I tried to call the ticket office at the jetty, but it was already five minutes to five, and Malaysian government employees aren’t renowned for their selfless dedication to unpaid overtime. I would have to wait until the next morning to find out more, and what an agonizing wait it would be: Would the snake still be there? Would they give it to us? And, most importantly: WOULD IT ACTUALLY BE A KING? I notified Ch’ien Lee, a veteran wildlife photographer, naturalist, and expedition guide always keen on photo ops with our wild neighbors, then I called Nicole back, and we all agreed to drive out to the jetty the next morning in the hope of a major herping scoop. After a very long and mainly sleepless night, I loaded my teenage sons Karl and Hans in the truck, then collected Nicole and Ch’ien. On the way to the coast we stopped at a random street stall to wolf down a hasty breakfast of Sarawak laksa (a divine dish which on that morning was completely wasted on our preoccupied minds), and then barreled on through the coastal swamps to the Bako jetty.

To our immense relief, our object of desire was still where Nicole had seen it the previous day: in a dark corner of the ticket office, less than a yard away from the bebirkenstocked feet of the backpackers lining up at the desk to buy boat fares to Bako National Park, stood a tall, tubular makeshift cage containing a snake of solid proportions. Two narrow sheets of chicken wire had been fastened to an upturned colander that served as the cage bottom, then tied together at the sides and the top with a few short lengths of flimsy pink plastic thread. On top of the colander, the snake was tightly coiled against the mesh, but in the dimness we couldn’t detect any details. What we did detect, in all its evil glory, was the smell. A heady sewage stench emanated from the animal, and blowflies were starting, landing, and parading all over its body. The snake had indeed already spent a few days in the cramped cage, without a chance to visit the nearby lavatory.

Ch’ien knelt down by the cage, peered into the malodorous gloom, and spoke the three magic words: “It’s a king.” My sons high-fived each other and yelled unprintables. Nicole beamed like a lighthouse. I took a few deep breaths, grabbed the cage and took it outside on the lawn.

We splashed the snake with water in an attempt at rehydration, and finally took a good look at it. The beast was as thick as my wrist, and I guessed its length at around eight feet. Particularly striking were the huge, almost crocodilian-looking body scales. Thick, with large surfaces, with ample gaps where they overlapped, they resembled coarse slate tiles stacked with a casual hand. Large armor plates also protected the blunt head with its watchful, birdlike eyes (bringing to my mind a small carnivorous dinosaur), and the low-slung supraoculars (“eyebrow scales”) perfected the menacing, “mess-with-me-at-your-own-risk” aura that surrounded the animal. No two ways about it. This was a King Cobra.

Now that we had established the reptile’s identity, congratulated each other, and scattered fistfuls of mental confetti, reality started to dawn on us. Menacing aura aside, the snake neither looked nor smelled very healthy. It made a listless, dehydrated impression, and a number of loose scales at the throat betrayed possible rough handling during capture. We needed to take the beast to the forest, take our photos, and release it at a safe location as soon as possible. Alas, we couldn’t just take off into the sunset with the reptile; there were social complications to be considered. Firstly, the man who had actually caught and secured the King in his house was not currently present at the jetty, but local customs and village politics required asking his permission for our plans. From a strictly logical viewpoint, one might argue that because Ophiophagus hannah is a protected species under Malaysian law, catching or detaining one is therefore a crime, which made Mr. Snake Catcher the bad guy and us the rescuing heroes. But reality scoffed at such straight Western reasoning. Bako National Park, the boat jetty, and the ticket office are all run by Sarawak Forestry, the state’s version of Fish & Wildlife. Dozens of Forestry officials in sage-green uniforms were milling all around us, selling tickets, arranging boats, and taking care of the tourists. But not one of them had given even a fleeting thought to the legal situation of the caged Protected Animal. In their version of reality, the guy who had caught the snake had done the right thing by bringing it to the jetty and promising to release it later in a location safe for both snake and humans. The fact that he had stuffed the Protected Animal into a cage instead of just removing it from his house (wildlife crime #1), and that he was now delaying the release of the Protected Animal by at least four days, without providing it with as much as a bowl of water, thereby risking the Protected Animal’s demise (wildlife crime #2), was completely lost on all of them. In their opinion, “he caught it, so it’s his snake. Anyone wants to take it anywhere else, they need his permission.” In terms of social networking, Borneo is really a tiny island, and drawing the ire of the village population was to be avoided, so we stuffed our beloved Western logic back into the left side of our brains and decided to seek out Mr. Snake Catcher in person, to engage in negotiations. A young Malay on a moped volunteered to take us to the man’s house, and after we had poured the King into a big red plastic bucket with a screw-on lid (always in my car for cases just like this) and stowed the bucket in the back of my pickup truck, we followed the kid to the snake catcher’s house.

Which was deserted. Moped Kid had Mr. Snake Catcher’s cell phone number, but only the answering machine picked up. Inquiries with the neighbors did not reveal Mr. Snake Catcher’s whereabouts, but someone produced the phone number of the guy’s wife. Mrs. Snake Catcher informed us that at this very moment, her husband was belting his heart out at some downtown karaoke joint, and that she would try to reach him on his second phone.

We waited for a small eternity, huddling from the boiling midday heat under a scraggly guava tree. I had taken the snake bucket out of the truck and placed it under the car to avoid making Casserole Royale. We wilted away under the tropical noon, kicking pebbles. The atmosphere was not unlike the opening scene of Once Upon a Time in the West, only the keening harmonica was replaced by a Muslim prayer station caterwauling from someone’s kitchen radio. Occasionally a villager would bicycle along and inquire about the bucket under my car. After being informed about its contents, he would pedal off at a brisk pace, infused with a sudden sense of urgency. And we would go back to kicking pebbles and wilting.

Just as we were about to melt into the asphalt, Mrs. Snake Catcher called back. Her husband hadn’t answered the phone; it was probably too loud in the karaoke joint. But he would definitely be back today at some time. Before midnight, for sure. This put us in a king-sized pickle, as we were now seriously worried about the amount of punishment the poor snake could take. Finally, somebody thought of a brilliant compromise: we would photograph the snake in the forest without waiting for Mr. Snake Catcher’s consent, but we would take Moped Kid with us. He would act as Mr. Snake Catcher’s representative and monitor our actions, lest we let the beast escape, or eat it.

Moped Kid saw the wisdom in our reasoning, and soon our little reptile roadshow was on the move again. A mile from the village we parked the car by the roadside and walked through an estuarine nipa palm swamp to a patch of forest. Arriving at the clearing I had selected for our photo shoot, we readied ourselves for our audience with the king.

In the inner tropics, “a clearing in the woods” does not indicate a picnic greensward perfect for spreading champagne and camembert, and serenading your lady (resplendent in a crisp, white sundress and elbow gloves) after lunch with a lute. The definition of "clearing" in the rainforest is "a place with fewer trees". The ground is covered ankle-deep with leaves, inhabited by a heaving biomass of polypeds, and rocks and roots lie in ambush to make you regret any step taken without great precaution. I had chosen a spot in a lovely bamboo grove, which meant that instead of hidden roots there were hidden ten-foot poles to trip us up. Not the best arena to spar with a large and potentially high-strung snake, but it had the best light for miles around, and the temperature was bearable.

The moment of truth had come. My sons and I were about to photograph our first wild, live King Cobra, and our lack of any previous experience with the species made me very nervous. Just a few months before, three friends had found and photographed a ten-foot King on a swamp road near Kuching, and their account of the event made it clear that O. hannah prefers a proactive attitude when disturbed. With a venomous snake of this caliber there was good potential for a disheartening episode or two. Suddenly I was even more nervous.

We had agreed that Ch’ien would take the first round of photos, with us handling the snake, and now we took up battle stations. I tipped the snake bucket over on the ground and prepared to open the lid. The boys, armed with snake hooks and tongs, flanked the bucket from a distance to prevent lateral escape attempts. Cheerleaders Nicole and Moped Kid stood in the back, smartphone cameras at the ready. Ch’ien squatted ten feet from the bucket and now screwed a 70-200mm zoom lens onto his Nikon. I thought “what’s with the long glass, we’re just shooting a terrestrial snake”, and then recalled that Ch’ien had photographed King Cobras before and probably appreciated the health benefits of a generous focal length. That brought my nervousness to an all-new level, but it now was too late to bail.

I opened the lid and stepped back.

At first, the scene played out just like with any other snake in this situation: the animal cautiously crept out of the bucket, quickly looked left and right, then took off in the direction of the closest tree line. The nearest snake handler (me) carefully hooked his trusty snake stick around the snake’s neck and gently pulled the animal back. So far, all according to script. Now the snake was supposed to slip out of the hook and retrace its tracks toward the trees, starting the usual flee/hook cycle that would end with the reptile tiring out and just quietly sitting there for a nice photo session.

But at this point in the sequence, the King rewrote the script. He did slip out of the hook, but instead of running for the hills he turned around and came for me. With terrifying determination, head raised high in the air, eight feet of venomous animal rushed me in a straight line, while its open maw brought forth the most chilling sound I’ve ever witnessed coming from a snake. Panicking backwards over hidden bamboo poles, random thought fragments zipped through my synapses: “the boys are too young to lose their dad pity I never wrote a will this snake smells I should have brought my long lens”. Just seconds before a huge load of neurotoxins was unleashed into my body, killing me on the spot via a massive heart attack … the snake stopped in mid-rush, cocked its head at me as if to say “see what you get when you f**k with me, maggot?”, and U-turned towards the tree line again.

This time Hans junior managed to hook the snake back, and again it bum-rushed its tormentor with a fierce display of psychological warfare. The blitz attack, the bone-jarring sound, and the subsequent escape while the attacker deals with a sudden need for a change of underwear - it was a first-class strategy, carried out with guts and skills. A very large venomous snake coming at you with what for all the world looks like hostile intent usually puts the fear of Sheitan into anyone. For me, the element that really made me lose it was the sound. From the Germanic tribes roaring out of the forests at the Roman legions, to the Russian infantry waves at the Eastern Front disintegrating German mettle with their terrible “uräääääh”, battle cries have always carried two purposes – boosting your own morale while destroying that of your foe. While it's probably difficult to determine how much self-confidence a King Cobra gains from its vocalizations, I will attest that it pulls off the morale-destroying bit with stunning efficiency. I struggle to find a single word that represents that sound well. “Hiss” doesn’t work - too thin, too anemic. Kittens hiss, and little tea kettles without a whistle. The sound that the King employed to command immediate respect might be better defined (and sonically mirrored) by the German verb “fauchen”, which accurately describes how kittens hiss after they've turned into adult Bengal tigers. Funny as it sounds, the explosive sound of an airliner toilet being flushed at 30.000 feet also comes very close. For those who can’t remember the last time they went to the bathroom on a plane, imagine Frodo’s buddy Smaug with a bad cough. (Further information on the science behind those sonic nuggets that make you look under your bed at night: Morphological basis of "growling" in the king cobra. Also check out this YouTube tape for a broad range of O. hannah sounds.)

Amid much shouting, fauching, and death-defying acrobatics, the boys finally managed to calm the snake down. It was resting on the bamboo leaves, sides heaving, a low-growl version of its rebel yell coming out of the snake in rhythmic sync with its breath. The sound seemed to emerge from everywhere at he same time - everywhere but the mouth, as though the snake was equipped with an idling muscle car engine. By now, the activity had exhausted the animal. The neck injury we had assumed earlier now turned out to be real: the snake was barely able to keep head or hood up, and kept falling over to the side. Fearing the worst, I gave up the idea of getting any good shots for myself and suggested we wrap the shoot. Earlier, Karl had taken a few dozen photos with my camera, so those had to suffice. At any rate, the whole experience was much more important for me than a bunch of high-class photographs anyway – after all, anybody can take good photos of a King Cobra, but not everyone gets to be scared witless by one. (Not that I would have taken any decent pix at all – in my hubris I had left my own telephoto lens at home and was stuck with a 100mm macro and an even less useful kit lens)

Putting the King back into its bucket seemed a no-brainer: I remembered a TV show about Rom Whitaker and his King Cobra breeding station, in which he maneuvered a large King into a sack simply by showing the animal the dark opening of the bag. The snake believed the hole would lead to a hiding spot and went straight inside. Consequently, we laid the bucket sideways on the forest floor in front of the snake and waited. The opening was just a little too large and just a little too bright to make the reptile feel welcome, but at least we were treated to an interesting bit of behavior: Ch’ien used a long bamboo pole to maneuver the bucket closer to the snake, causing the bucket to roll gently from side to side. The snake immediately reared up and swayed its body along with the bucket’s movements. Classic snake charmer trick, but I bet it’s the first time somebody managed to pull it off with a large plastic pail instead of a flute.

In the end, three of us hooked, tonged and manually stuffed (the last two feet or so) the King back in the bucket and drove back to the jetty in the hope that Mr. Snake Catcher had arrived by now. Of course, he hadn’t, and neither had he returned anyone's calls. Just when we were about to despair, a middle-aged man with an extra-crisp starch job on his Sarawak Forestry uniform walked up and warmly greeted us with a thousand-watt smile. I couldn’t have been happier if Jimi Hendrix himself had materialized before our eyes, for this was Dr. Abang, the chief executive of Bako National Park, and our ticket to sanity. I pointed at the red bucket, gave the good doctor a quick status report on the snake’s health and the political situation, and then asked him if he would give us official permission to release the animal somewhere safe, right now. Not only did Dr. Abang agree without any further thought, he also promised to explain everything to Mr. Snake Catcher, should he come to the jetty later.

We thanked Dr. Abang for his help, bade Moped Kid adieu, and back to the swamp we went, where we gently lowered the King into the vegetation on a creek bank. At first, it just sat there, stunned, then started to crawl deeper into the bush at a snail’s pace.

We celebrated the rescue with a few gallons of coconut water from a street vendor. Ch’ien explained the superior health and rehydration perks of the beverage to us (add ice and some water for greatest effect), and the vendor taught my sons to open the nuts with a bush knife without spilling the contents or losing a finger. Then we bought a dozen nuts for the kids to practice at home, and Karl extracted enough coconut water to fill an Arowana tank … but that's the beginning of another story.

PS: King Cobra fans, stay tuned: the genus Ophiohagus is soon to be split up into a dozen species.

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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 6th, 2014, 8:16 am 
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Joined: October 18th, 2011, 12:03 pm
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Location: San Francisco, California
Peace to you Dear King, for the rest of your living days. Stay away from people. Peace, Peace to You.

I always find myself feeling that prayer in my throat, almost everytime I see and read about a King Cobra.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 7th, 2014, 4:29 am 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
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Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
So true.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 7th, 2014, 5:55 am 

Joined: February 28th, 2014, 12:10 am
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Absolutely wonderful Hans. I know exactly how it feels to encounter this magnificant creature. There's simply nothing like it. I will always treasure those memories. I'll be in Ko Chang, Thailand, in May and saw some pictures of a specimen on Koh Chang eating a Python reticulatus. It will be on the top of my list again. At the same time I know my chances are slim......


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 7th, 2014, 7:03 am 
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Joined: June 8th, 2010, 2:19 am
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Location: Kuching, Sarawak (Borneo)
Thank you!

dendrelaphis wrote:
a specimen on Koh Chang eating a Python reticulatus.

Godzilla vs. Gamera!

Quote:
At the same time I know my chances are slim......

From all I hear, people are literally tripping over Kings in Thailand. And in Hong Kong, for that matter. But maybe that's just envy embittering us poor Borneans :-)


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 7th, 2014, 9:40 am 
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Location: London, United Kingdom
The Kings in Borneo looks so gnarly! Funny how pissed he was too, I had to keep my last King in the cupboard for 2 days and I still had a hard time getting it to hood up. One similarity was that when I released mine on the side of a creek, it just looked dazed and didn't even begin to move until I touched him multiple times. I wonder if these relocated Kings like yours and mine actually make it when they're released... I hope so, there's not enough of them.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 7th, 2014, 9:54 am 
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Ruxs wrote:
The Kings in Borneo looks so gnarly! Funny how pissed he was too, I had to keep my last King in the cupboard for 2 days and I still had a hard time getting it to hood up. One similarity was that when I released mine on the side of a creek, it just looked dazed and didn't even begin to move until I touched him multiple times. I wonder if these relocated Kings like yours and mine actually make it when they're released... I hope so, there's not enough of them.



This seems wildly unethical.

All to show off some pics?


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 7th, 2014, 10:40 am 
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Bagging, Tiring out, Holding into containment for hours or days.

Why isnt this done by other people photographing birds and mammals? Even small ones? You know, to get a good shot of them cause they move and all.

Because Its Not Possible, thats why.

Its an illusion that just because a snake is venomous, it takes "Skill" to "handle" it. It Doesnt, and enough idiots have proven it doesnt, especially if you dont give a f* about injuring it or stressing it out in a morbid way.

The weird ministrations done to snakes, venomous and harmless, to "tire" them out and subdue them for a photo do not resemble any normal predation/conflict experience they would have with a non human.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 8th, 2014, 12:18 am 
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Kelly Mc wrote:
Bagging, Tiring out, Holding into containment for hours or days.

Why isnt this done by other people photographing birds and mammals? ....

Because Its Not Possible, thats why.

Oh, it is, it is. Don't know about birds, but you'd be surprised how many people do exactly the same with mammals big and small.

I had a huge discussion about the whole catch & release topic with the local chapter of the Malaysian Nature Society the other day. They're all hardcore birders and don't see the necessity of close-ups, and they transfer this thinking onto everything else. I tried to make them understand that unlike them, we photograph a family of much-hated animals with the purpose of getting people to like them a little more, or at least hate them a little less. To that end, a nice shot of a snake that brings out the specific beauty of the animal can go a long way in swaying the public opinion - I've experienced that on numerous occasions.

The subduing is of course a moral dilemma. I think as long as it's kept to a minimum, the educational effect we try to achieve with our photos is worth a little inconvenience for the animal (and it is little more than an inconvenience in most cases). This opinion may be subject to age - I surprised myself during the above-posted event when I just decided to forfeit my own photographs of the animal I'd been lusting after for so long, because I felt any prolonged shooting would lead to health problems for the snake. Seven years ago, I would probably have kept the King under my bed for a few days as well, just because I was so happy to meet it. But that sentiment is surely never shared by any animal we photograph, and I find myself keeping the shoots shorter and shorter, the older I get. I only wish we could do more proper hands-off in-situ shots, but that's rarely ever possible for us.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 8th, 2014, 2:24 am 
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Kelly Mc wrote:
This seems wildly unethical.

All to show off some pics?


Primarily it was because we had no car in our last 3 days in Thailand and I didn't want to release it in the town centre, I wanted to release it high in the rubber plantations bordering the forest, far from people.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 8th, 2014, 3:15 am 
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Hans Breuer (twoton) wrote:
The subduing is of course a moral dilemma. I think as long as it's kept to a minimum, the educational effect we try to achieve with our photos is worth a little inconvenience for the animal (and it is little more than an inconvenience in most cases). This opinion may be subject to age - I surprised myself during the above-posted event when I just decided to forfeit my own photographs of the animal I'd been lusting after for so long, because I felt any prolonged shooting would lead to health problems for the snake. Seven years ago, I would probably have kept the King under my bed for a few days as well, just because I was so happy to meet it. But that sentiment is surely never shared by any animal we photograph, and I find myself keeping the shoots shorter and shorter, the older I get. I only wish we could do more proper hands-off in-situ shots, but that's rarely ever possible for us.


I have also noticed that many people, including myself, feel more and more uncomfortable with extensive amounts of handling/enclosing the older we get. The more and more we herp, the better the actual in-situ pictures look. On the other hand, I've herped with several young people who don't mind throwing a snake/frog/lizard in a bag for a day or days, or harassing it with a stick for hours, just to get a photo. I think that difference in approach with maturity is good food for thought.

I'm not anti-handling. But I do want to suggest moderation in this.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 8th, 2014, 5:18 am 
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What a freakin' rock-star post! I'm going to look into online gambling website translation careers IMMEDIATELY. Thanks for my free mini-vacation to Borneo, my friend!!

I think the criticism is a bit quick and harsh about handling and taking pics and all that. And I wouldn't have it any other way! lol I love this community, that fiercely defends wildlife, even from eachother. Let's all keep eachother honest.

Catching snakes is such a funny contradiction. We love these creatures...so we man-handle them and cost them resources (hydration, energy, stress). Reminds me of the Steve Irwin South Park episode, "I LOVE this animal. That's why I'm going to shove my finger up its bum!"

Myself - I really don't need to grab everything that I see. What's more, I refuse to carry huge camera equipment in small foreign places, so my pictures tend to be awful (by comparison). But I do break my own rules on it, unfortunately.

Usually the exception for me is this - when I have kids in tow - especially locals, then I tend to handle stuff more. The amount of education you get from actually inspecting the animal is amazing. And de-mystifying it with locals goes a super long way as well. I take tiny credit several times, of a story where someone carefully removed a venomous snake from a drain or road, because they saw me do it and just didn't want to see the thing die.

In the end, here is my rationalization: People go fishing, right? Catch and release can't be any more fun for the fish, or easy on its body than snake catching. I'm not trying to say full-on, green light, go for it. But if it is a rescue, and you can get some positive social / educational benefit out of it, and you are hyper aware that you're stressing the animal, then it can be ok.

But back to the topic at hand - congrats on your super-cool encounter!!


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 8th, 2014, 6:03 am 
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MontyNajar wrote:
Catching snakes is such a funny contradiction. We love these creatures...so we man-handle them and cost them resources (hydration, energy, stress). Reminds me of the Steve Irwin South Park episode, "I LOVE this animal. That's why I'm going to shove my finger up its bum!"


hahaha - I can hardly have a conversation about Steve Irwin anymore without mentioning this episode at some point.

As far as the comparison to catch-and-release fishing...I do feel that catch-and-release is quite traumatic, and couldn't imagine wanting to ever practice it with a herp, or any animal that I actually liked. If I really loved fish (I mean, besides eating them), I don't think I'd be able to snag a hook in their mouth and drag them to me, watching them fight against me the whole time, just out of the joy of getting to fight with them and take a picture. In fact, even doing that with a fish that is interesting to me feels a little icky. Man, I should stop thinking about this...

Mortality rates for catch-and-release are all over the board, from 1% to 95% depending on the factors involved, but seem to clump around 10-15% in the middle range. Imagine if you flipped rocks in such a manner that you killed one in ten of the snakes you flipped over? That would suck.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 8th, 2014, 6:05 am 
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Monty, thank you for your kind words, your level-headed input on a highly flammable issue, and the South Park reference which was new to me :-) For the record, I'm not translating online games for a living, Insh'allah and God forbid. I run a game translation company, and I was just lending a hand. As for huge cameras in small foreign places - what rig do you bring when the little tropical island is bigger than Texas?


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 8th, 2014, 7:12 am 
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Agreed on fish. Went fishing on a boat in the gulf one time. All these awesome fish laid out on the deck when we got back. When I asked about cleaning them and taking them home, they said - "No, no, no! They're terrible eating!" WTF!?!?!?!? We just killed them for the money shot on the deck??

Same as trophy hunting, right? So strange. Also reminds me about Monty Python Australian hunter sketch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZvT3MHpffk "I love animals. That's why I like to kill em."

Well - the camera is another point of great debate. Do you 'film' the experience, or do you 'experience' the experience?? I take something discreet and cheap-ish. I like the $200 range camera Best-buy special with a small body, decent optical zoom and 10meg resolution or so. Beyond that, I've got to accept that my photos will be very AMATEUR at best. Same with video. Sometimes that pisses me off (blurry pic & missed a great shot of my son, for example), but then mostly - I don't care. The photo is only a reminder - I was there. (BTW - I did have no idea that Borneo was that big (Yankee disease! lol). But also, by 'small' I mean little tribal communities, which is my FAVE place to hang out.)

This whole thread is BS! We should not be off on tangents distracting from such an awesome story about Mr. Kallinga Sapara!! :)


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 8th, 2014, 7:18 am 
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I think I am just tired of seeing scuffed, pinched, lacerated Kings. And crass trophy shots of a cobra being gripped at the throat for dear life by a guy. They may be able to down an elephant, but their bones and tissue are the same as other snakes.

I alaways hear the same old cannonized words about various practices being below par or lacking in full merit but, "Hey its for the Good!" when something is good it is good in many ways,. there doesnt have to be an option for sacrificing Better.

There are no chordates easier to manipulate, keep alive in extremely restricted circumstances, by the outdoor enthusiast, than snakes.

Try posing a monkey on a rock sometime. Or even a mouse.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 8th, 2014, 8:34 am 
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Kelly - you're a good egg, for sure.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 8th, 2014, 10:48 am 
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Thank you for the kindness Monty. I thoroughly enjoyed your posts and find them equal parts Acuity + Fun.

I hope Hans that you know I meant what was said as a general observed item, and I apologize and feel :oops: for visiting your thread with the topic, but the mental picture of a King battering itself in a cupboard prompted me out of the boundries of propriety, along with other things I have seen, other sources.

I have an idea that may be useful, as a repeated theme is the necessary relocation of animals. Not only Kings but many snakes and large lizards have the propensity to self injure in close confinement and the signs of self injury are distinctive to the discerning eye. It is widely believed that conveniently a snake will stay quietly sedentary in a container but this is a belief, it isnt always fact at all. But very convenient to believe. They are often extremely stressed and dysphorically restless in unescapable novel situ.

My idea is that being Prepared is everything, and it is good. Brainstorming to build a safe, ergonomic holding container for ethical containment would not only be an exciting project, but would allow another opportunity to put ones snake knowledge to another venue of creative use.

It could be customized to your travel needs, and other realities of your herping life and known experiences - past and to come.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 8th, 2014, 3:45 pm 
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Something that could be provided with some significant cover and enable a stable provision of fresh water, versions of this could go a long way to treat the animals we find so beautiful, with just that much more regard, just a little beyond the cloth bag and plain sterilite box.

What a cool innovative tradition it would be to start.



* add edit - some materials that could be very appropriate for use would be plastic grid used in laboratory husbandry, it is fabricated with rounded tines to reduce impact of repeated animal contact. It is excellent material for ventilation and less likely to abrade pressing labials and rostrals. A square of it could also be screwed in a floor corner, where a receptacle could be moored in above it inside, that could easily be filled with a dribble from a hose or ones water bottle, and easy to empty it thru floor grate square with a little twist of a wing nut on the outside. etc. Theres probably so many more ways and ideas others could think of that would be even better and smoother in design.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 8th, 2014, 7:53 pm 
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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 8th, 2014, 8:15 pm 
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MontyNajar wrote:
We should not be off on tangents distracting from such an awesome story about Mr. Kallinga Sapara!! :)

Kallinga Spara? (Sorry, couldn't google it!)

Kelly, I understand where you're coming from, and there's no apology in order. In fact, I thank you for bringing up this much-avoided topic. It is one that many of us struggle with - being torn between enjoying a personal triumph and doing what's right out of compassion for a fellow being, in particular one whose tribe we claim to love so much. You find the most awesome herp of our lives, but it's sick and weak, and by rights, you should skip the photo session altogether and return the animal to its home without further ado. I think most of us have been in a similar situation, and it takes a bigger person than most of us to do the right thing right away.

I hope this thread will get more of us to think about the ethical limits of what we do. A complete hands-off approach is impractical, for reasons laid out above, but we need to be constantly aware of the limits involved. I still maintain that an adult King Cobra in full possession of its health and faculties will come out of an encounter with me with much less psychological damage than I. But not all the animals we meet are equipped to prevail in meetings with humans, and we need to keep that in mind.

A thought from the opposite end of the spectrum: do we ever think about what happens to reed snakes or blind snakes when we pick them up, engulfing them in a world of flesh with our huge hands?


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 8th, 2014, 8:46 pm 
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yes I think topics like this and the concerns discussed are often trivialized, but what is mistaken for sentiment is perhaps the simple practice of finessing ones skills and being astute to the benefits of the way we perform all of our activities. It is like many other disciplines.

We spend many hours composing our posts, going through our photo hosting sites, and spend lots of money in trips and camera equipment, and enjoying the kudos that we recieve from doing so.

It only seems right and good to the snakes that we call the centre of our pursuits, to be treated as guests.

Perhaps when re released, they might have a better chance of gaining their bearings, and going on with their lives in niche, if less shocky and dehydrated.

As for handling small taxa, I talk with teachers and children frequently, with temp gun in hand, it is often forgotten how small animals (of all types) can overheat with too much handling. What is at first unconsidered, becomes something more to teach.

The truth is good and when something is good, its good in many ways.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 8th, 2014, 9:34 pm 
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Kelly Mc wrote:
As for handling small taxa, I talk with teachers and children frequently, with temp gun in hand, it is often forgotten how small animals (of all types) can overheat with too much handling.

Indraneil Das told me once that one of the reed snakes in Borneo (Calamaria sp., I forgot which species) has never been photographed alive for that reason - they all died as soon as people picked them up.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 8th, 2014, 9:53 pm 
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Just a couple months ago I was extensively handling some geckos and frogs that were designated for the pickle jar, in order to finish recording all their diagnostic features. They had been collected the night before, we were still in the jungle they were found in, conditions were fairly benign, but they were restrained in my hands for quite a while. I'm really glad they were already going to be museum specimens, because they died before they had even touched a chemical.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 9th, 2014, 12:46 am 
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This was a fascinating account, Mr. Breuer. You are perhaps the finest writer on this great Forum we call "home," and I am hoping to get a copy of your Taiwan book soon. I have to ask though: will there be a Borneo book? Or two?

-Sincerely, Gene


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 9th, 2014, 2:05 am 
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Thank you very much, Gene, for the compliment and your plans to help a starving writer - much appreciated! :-)

Yes, there will be a Borneo book, and it's in the making, but unlike the Taiwan book which took me less than one cold, drizzly winter to write, that will probably take another few years. Feeling my mnemonic powers waning with age, I've been writing a diary since we moved here, and I have already enough material for three hundred pages. Alas - here in Borneo there is no chance or just switching to full writing mode for a few months in a row, because for a naturalist, the climate is just too fabulous all year round. Sun's out? Let's go find monitor lizards! Heavy rains? Get the snake hooks! So far, I've been writing the Borneo book in raggedy bits and bobs, and I've barely managed to accrue fifteen pages :-) I'm hoping for more efficiency when we visit the in-laws in Taipei for six weeks later this year ... Northern Taiwan in winter provides exactly the hideous weather you wish for when you want to get stuff done indoors!


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 9th, 2014, 7:28 am 
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Hans Breuer (twoton) wrote:
Thank you very much, Gene, for the compliment and your plans to help a starving writer - much appreciated! :-)

Yes, there will be a Borneo book, and it's in the making, but unlike the Taiwan book which took me less than one cold, drizzly winter to write, that will probably take another few years. Feeling my mnemonic powers waning with age, I've been writing a diary since we moved here, and I have already enough material for three hundred pages. Alas - here in Borneo there is no chance or just switching to full writing mode for a few months in a row, because for a naturalist, the climate is just too fabulous all year round. Sun's out? Let's go find monitor lizards! Heavy rains? Get the snake hooks! So far, I've been writing the Borneo book in raggedy bits and bobs, and I've barely managed to accrue fifteen pages :-) I'm hoping for more efficiency when we visit the in-laws in Taipei for six weeks later this year ... Northern Taiwan in winter provides exactly the hideous weather you wish for when you want to get stuff done indoors!


All I need to know is that it's in the works. I know you'll finish it at your own pace, and hey, nothing wrong with herping when the herping's good!


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 10th, 2014, 7:50 am 

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I found my first wild king this year as well. Just a little worm (2m), but an experience I will never forget.
I have had the opportunity to work with kings in captivity, but one in the wild is a whole new kettle of ball games.
They are so intelligent, and you can definitely see that when you're interacting with them. They are working you out as much as you are working them out.
You're right about the growling though. Super impressive and it just cuts right through you
Awesome find!


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 10th, 2014, 8:36 pm 
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RonanK wrote:
I found my first wild king this year as well. Just a little worm (2m), but an experience I will never forget.

Got pix? :-)

Quote:
I have had the opportunity to work with kings in captivity, but one in the wild is a whole new kettle of ball games.

In which regard?


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 11th, 2014, 3:25 am 

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I'm making a full "Back Half of 2014" post which will contain the king pics from Hong Kong. But here are a couple with one with the tongs at the moment of capture for scale.

Image

Image

As for the difference between captive and wild kings. The captive kings are used to the fact that there are people around and that people go in and out of their personal space on a regular basis (for cage maintenance/heath checks/feeding/etc); so they still have that "look" of pure intelligence and awareness about what is going on around them, but they definitely appear to remember that people as a rule are not too much to worry about as they obviously do remember that either people are the bringers of food, or that they really don't harass or cause many issues for the kings in general. A king at the Singapore Zoo doesn't even hood up much any more unless he is being removed or handled for checkups, then he will get defensive because it is a fairly irregular, but necessary, procedure that he is obviously not entirely comfortable with as a concept.

Now, with the wild king (which I assumed has had no previous contact with people), it put on the full show of being a king. All the hooding and charging and striking and hissing and growling comes out with nothing held back. It is definitely a different feel, because after all of that, it dropped into an alert position - still hooded - but more restrained and more calculating. It is a very strange but extremely humbling experience to be "sussed out" by an animal that has as much power, reverence, and mythos as a king.
You must have experienced that with your big guy there. Truly unforgettable, no matter what environment.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 13th, 2014, 5:18 am 
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Thank you, Ronan! Very interesting indeed! Is that GoPro on your GentleGiant (or are you just happy to see me :-))


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 14th, 2014, 7:56 am 

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Yep it is! I got the idea from Mark O'Shea. You use a bicycle handlebar mount and it will fit on the main shaft of most snake tongs and/or the end of the handle of a snake hook. I'm using Midwest M1 Tongs with neoprene padding. They're the best of both worlds IMHO. Wide jaw for the snake's comfort, yet still maneuverable and no real gap between the jaws. Plus, with the padding, they are probably one of the safest tongs to use, both for the handler and the handlee


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 15th, 2014, 6:03 pm 

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Fantastic writing as always Hans. Sad to hear about the mistreatment of the cobra.
That snake catcher should not be let off the hook! Stuffing the cobra in a cramped mesh cage with no food/water for several days is not the result of ignorance, but of carelessness and disrespect. If the guy can't operate on common sense, then he shouldnt keep his job. Looking at the photos, the poor thing cant even hood properly! Anyways, hope the king lives a good life.


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 Post subject: Re: Borneo Dispatches #80: The King and Us
PostPosted: October 15th, 2014, 7:36 pm 
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Thanks, Sam....I wouldn't hold my breath for Mr Snake Catcher to be held accountable. As I said, in their eyes, he already did the right thing by not killing it and displaying it on top of the handrail of the jetty to freak out the tourists (as happened there with another King a few years ago)


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