Herping in Nepal (really, actual herping!) - part 1

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Paul Freed
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Herping in Nepal (really, actual herping!) - part 1

Post by Paul Freed » December 27th, 2019, 10:23 am

I suppose I should start this post with an apology. Back in May of this year I posted a plea requesting info on herping in Nepal and regrettably, titled it: “Herping Nepal”. Apparently, this drew the attention of many of the members of FHF and as a result, it received more than 3500 views, unfortunately, none of which were able to offer any advice on herping there. In hindsight, I should have worded my request differently and now, by way of trying to make up for that poor choice of wording I would like to offer my first official post.

Despite the recent publication of several notable books on the amphibians and reptiles of Nepal it seems that few herpers have ventured there. One exception was, Hans Breuer, whose delightful adventures regaled us with his experiences in that mountainous nation some time ago.

I spent a month, mostly in the east, southeast, and southcentral region of Nepal, together with my wife, Barbara, a primatologist, Peter Uetz, the creator of the Reptile Database, and his wife, Ruma, a naturalist, who just happens to be Nepalese. The fact that Ruma was born in Nepal came in quite handy on numerous occasions when language issues arose.

Several days were spent in the capital of Kathmandu, organizing transportation and arranging meetings with several Nepalese herpetologists that were contacted prior to our arrival. We had requested their assistance in hopes that they could aid us in our search for local species of amphibians and reptiles. Nearly all of them recommended that we begin our trip with a visit to Chitwan National Park; the largest and most famous of Nepal’s protected areas.
A typical street view of Kathmandu, an electricians' nightmare
A typical street view of Kathmandu, an electricians' nightmare
Before we left Kathmandu, we visited a nearby Buddhist Temple, Swayambhunath, which the locals refer to as the, “Monkey Temple”. Barbara naturally insisted we check it out, and as a result, we spent the better part of the morning walking among dozens of Rhesus Macaques living and playing around numerous statues of Buddha and other sacred artifacts. The Buddhist pilgrims do not harass these primates, but rather feed them and ensure their safety within the boundaries of the temple.
The local residents of the “Monkey Temple” enjoy a morning meal
The local residents of the “Monkey Temple” enjoy a morning meal
A dominant male Rhesus Macaque waits for a handout from one of the Buddhist monks
A dominant male Rhesus Macaque waits for a handout from one of the Buddhist monks
A female Rhesus Macaque and her youngster watch the activity in the temple
A female Rhesus Macaque and her youngster watch the activity in the temple
We also checked out a nature reserve on the outskirts of town, Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park. Here we found several common skinks (Sphenomorphus maculatus), a Variegated Mountain Lizard (Japalura variegata), and a dead snake in a roadside ditch. The snake was a small colubrid, a Yellowbelly Worm-eating Snake (Trachischium tenuiceps) and was in perfect physical condition with no visible injuries. We were unable to determine what caused its death.
A male, Variegated Mountain Lizard (Japalura variegata) in a park near the capital
A male, Variegated Mountain Lizard (Japalura variegata) in a park near the capital
Roadside ditch where a dead, Yellowbelly Worm-eating Snake was found
Roadside ditch where a dead, Yellowbelly Worm-eating Snake was found
Dead, Yellowbelly Worm-eating Snake found intact in roadside ditch
Dead, Yellowbelly Worm-eating Snake found intact in roadside ditch
Close-up of Yellowbelly Worm-eating Snake showing its brilliant iridescence
Close-up of Yellowbelly Worm-eating Snake showing its brilliant iridescence
Ironically, several days later, we encountered another Worm-eating Snake, the Black-bellied Worm-eating Snake, Trachischium fuscum, which we found partially exposed sticking out of the ground, and was also dead. This snake had an injury to its underside, presumably from being attacked while attempting to burrow into the ground.
Portion of the posterior region of a Black-bellied Worm-eating Snake that was exposed while burrowing into the ground
Portion of the posterior region of a Black-bellied Worm-eating Snake that was exposed while burrowing into the ground
Ventral view of the Black-bellied Worm-eating Snake showing the injury to its underside that may have lead to its death
Ventral view of the Black-bellied Worm-eating Snake showing the injury to its underside that may have lead to its death
Close-up of the Black-bellied Worm-eating Snake
Close-up of the Black-bellied Worm-eating Snake
Frogs were the most conspicuous of the herpetofauna we encountered, and these were mostly seen at night. A word about night herping in Nepal; it’s virtually impossible. Nepal takes the conservation of its wildlife very seriously. As a result, all the national parks in the country prohibit entry after dark. This is to prevent the poaching of rhinos, tigers, and any other of their wildlife. And we’re not talking about some flimsy piece of barb wire keeping people out; the parks are patrolled by heavily armed military personnel. You definitely don’t want to be caught there after dark!

As a consequence, the only opportunity to herp at night involved small forested areas well outside of national parks. Unfortunately, those areas did not produce much in terms of herpetofauna.
City view showing fragmented areas of agriculture and sparse tree cover where the only nighttime herping was possible
City view showing fragmented areas of agriculture and sparse tree cover where the only nighttime herping was possible
Getting about in Nepal is rather challenging. To say that the roads are in poor condition would be the ultimate understatement. The distance from Kathmandu to Chitwan National Park is a mere 86 km (53 miles), yet, this undertaking took just over 6 hours! Of course, part of the reason for this was due to the horrific traffic problems plaguing the capital. There are absolutely no rules when it comes to driving in Nepal, except that ‘might makes right’, in other words, the largest vehicle gets to stay on the road and if you are in their way you either move or get hit.

On the banks of the Narayani River, in Chitwan N.P., several Mugger Crocodiles (Crocodylus palustris) and Gavials (Gavialis gangeticus) can be seen basking on sunny days. Seeing these magnificent creatures in the wild simply cannot compare to observing them under captive conditions.
View of the Narayani River, in Chitwan N.P
View of the Narayani River, in Chitwan N.P
A Mugger Crocodile basking on the rivers' edge
A Mugger Crocodile basking on the rivers' edge
Male Gavial takes advantage of the morning sun to bask on the Narayani River
Male Gavial takes advantage of the morning sun to bask on the Narayani River
A walk along the shoreline (safely, on the opposite side from where the crocs were basking) revealed a large ratsnake (Ptyas mucosa) hidden in a brush pile. Sadly, the snake was extremely emaciated and had a serious injury on its tail that resulted in most of it being necrotic. Without medical intervention, its chance of survival is likely very poor.

A Bengal Monitor (Varanus bengalensis), some 10 meters up a tree emerging from a hole in the main trunk was spotted by our eagle-eye guide as it began to bask in the late morning sunlight. A wonderful assortment of exquisite invertebrates were also encountered while hiking through the forest, including viper-mimicking caterpillars, spiny spiders, gaudy dragonflies, colorful mating grasshoppers, and even a giant vinegaroon. Slight movement in the leaf-litter also revealed a hatchling Striped Grass Skink (Eutropis dessimilis).
A Bengal Monitor emerges from its high tree-top home to bask in the morning sun
A Bengal Monitor emerges from its high tree-top home to bask in the morning sun
Odd-looking caterpillar in forest vegetation
Odd-looking caterpillar in forest vegetation
Caterpillar reacts to a disturbance by facing the possible threat
Caterpillar reacts to a disturbance by facing the possible threat
Snake-mimicking caterpillar has the perfect disguise
Snake-mimicking caterpillar has the perfect disguise
A spiny Gasteracantha orb-weaver spider hangs from vegetation in Chitwan National Park
A spiny Gasteracantha orb-weaver spider hangs from vegetation in Chitwan National Park
A spectacularly-colored dragonfly basks in the morning sun
A spectacularly-colored dragonfly basks in the morning sun
A spiny caterpillar hides under a leaf in which it's about to eat
A spiny caterpillar hides under a leaf in which it's about to eat
Seeing a vinegaroon on the forest floor was quite a surprise
Seeing a vinegaroon on the forest floor was quite a surprise
The ubiquitous, Indian Bull Frog (Hoplobatrachus tigerinus) was commonly seen in the national park
The ubiquitous, Indian Bull Frog (Hoplobatrachus tigerinus) was commonly seen in the national park
A hatchling Striped Grass Skink found in the leaf-litter
A hatchling Striped Grass Skink found in the leaf-litter
Stay turned for part 2...

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Sky Islander
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Re: Herping in Nepal (really, actual herping!) - part 1

Post by Sky Islander » December 28th, 2019, 9:57 am

What an exotic trip you had! I would be thrilled to see muggers, gavial, and a Bengal monitor. That one caterpillar looks like a dachshund with eyes were glued on by a kid. So bizarre!
Thank you,
Goose

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jonathan
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Re: Herping in Nepal (really, actual herping!) - part 1

Post by jonathan » January 1st, 2020, 11:48 pm

Incredible to see two Trachischium species, even dead. I have hoped to find those in the Indian foothills of the Himalayas and haven't been lucky yet.

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