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Herping Adventures with Bali Reptile Rescue

Updated: Jul 17, 2019

"With a tail in one hand and a hook in the other I gave the camera a huge cheesy grin, knowing how impressed my dad was going to be when I showed him!"


A few weeks ago, I returned from a three week trip to Indonesia with my boyfriend, Dan (he’s responsible for most of my photographic content).Of course, we had a long list of temples and beaches that we wanted to visit, however there was one other thing firmly planted on our bucket list. Snakes. Being reptile owners, we had a huge desire to witness what Indonesia’s reptile species had to offer.

We spent the majority of our trip in rural areas with very little tourist presence, exploring as many jungle areas as possible during our time in each area we were staying in. Because of course, if we were hoping to find snakes, this would be the sure way to do so, right? Unfortunately, we were hit with disappointment after disappointment. The snakes were not found in anywhere near the high abundance that we had hoped….or expected.

Each time we got chatting to the locals, we asked them to point us in the right direction to finding some, but each time we got the same response “there aren’t many here”. We got exactly the same response from the jungle walk guides too. Both said it in a reassuring tone, and then proceeded to look at us like crazy people when we explained that we were actively looking for them out of interest and not avoidance.

Whilst in Maumere on the island of Flores, our driver for the day (a local to the area) told us that the locals force the snakes away deeper into the jungles with their increasing presence and residential expansion. He also explained that snakes are not highly thought of by the locals, and that should one find itself near their settlements, it can surely expect a sharp blade to the head. Yepp, they chop their heads off. Now I of course understand that a lack of education is a huge cause of fear (and as most of the locals have never been to school, so I wouldn’t say their snake education is great) but it didn’t make it any less frustrating to hear. It did however offer a part explanation as to why we were not having much luck at finding any reptiles.

Dead Spitting Cobra (Naja sputatrix)

Nearly two weeks had passed and still the only encounter we’d had, was with a few sun skinks, Tokay geckos, common geckos, a dead spitting cobra (Naja sputatrix) and a dead wolf snake (Lycodon capucinus). The end of trip was drawing near and our luck had not increased, nor did it look like it was ever going to, especially as we’re now in mainland Bali which was exceptionally bustling with tourists. After doing some research about herping in Bali, I came across the Bali Reptile Rescue. They are an organisation which attends call outs for snakes that have made their way into domestic living areas. They safely retrieve the snakes, before releasing back into nearby rural areas away from human settlement. Their work prevents the death of hundreds of snakes each year, ensuring the wild population maintains a fighting chance of survival.

I was intrigued to find out more about their background and whether they could offer us any help in finding wild snakes. I got a very prompt reply explaining that they were unfortunately not able to accommodate us at their headquarters due to filming that was taking place at the time. However, as an alternative they then offered to assist us in an evening herping trek. Of course, we leapt at the opportunity and sealed a date there and then.

We were picked up by Agus and Rani our herping guides at 20:30 sharp. We explained the difficulty we’d had finding snakes, and how we were faced with continuous locals telling us they aren’t around. Agus let out a slight chuckle and shone his light into the bamboo canopy at the entrance of the hotel. Straight away he pointed out a green lizard figure nestled away amongst the leaves…..typical right. He told us that there are snakes everywhere if you know where to look, and that the locals and business owners only say there aren’t many around to ensure tourists don’t become frightened.

** Side note: Don’t let this put you off travelling to Indonesia. The likelihood of you coming into contact with a snake is very rare…. look how difficult it was for us and we were actively trying! A snake poses no threat to you unless you accidently come into physical contact with it, i.e step on its tail, or unless you go out of your way to antagonise it. They perceive humans as a huge threat (smart) and will purposely avoid us where they can. If you do come into contact, calmly walk away and leave the snake be where possible, or alternatively call an organisation like the Bali Reptile Rescue to safely and humanely remove the snake out of your living quarters. Killing it is NOT an option. **

Mangrove (Boiga dendrophila)

With our hiking boots and with our head torches at the ready, we were soon on our way to finally achieving what we had been waiting for our entire trip. It didn’t take long at all after arriving at our first stop before we struck lucky. High up in the trees was a black and white Mangrove (Boiga dendrophila). Agus, clearly having done it many times before, climbed up the tree to safely get the Mangrove down for us to take a closer look. Now don’t get me wrong, as much as l love snakes, I had never worked with wild ones before, nor was I well-practised with using a snake hook, so I was a little hesitant about diving in at the deep end with a rear fanged venomous snake that’s well known for its feisty attitude. Yes, I sat this one out and let Dan take the reins. After plenty of gazing in awe and disbelief about what we had just come across so easily, we released the Mangrove back exactly where we found it before continuing on with our search.

Bronze back (Dendrelaphis tristis)

Let me tell you, the eye sight and identification Agus and Rani have is impeccable, so it was no wonder that after finding the first, the snakes just kept coming. The second snake we came across was a Bronze back (Dendrelaphis tristis) which I was more than happy to jump right in with… resembles a slightly overgrown worm in size. Nevertheless, it still had a feisty little attitude! This was followed by a Yellow striped rat snake (Coelognathus flavolineatus) and a Praying mantis (Mantodea) that I definitely got a little too excited over.

Yellow striped rat snake (Coelognathus flavolineatus)

The Yellow striped rat snake we came across had scaring very close to its head from a bite wound which most likely came from its prey. This is a prime example of why I don’t feed any of my reptiles’ live food. Mistakes and misjudgements can happen in the wild, let alone in a contained area, so for me personally it just isn’t worth the risk.

Before heading to our next location were hit with yet another pot of luck and came across another Mangrove, only this time black and yellow. At this point all of my hesitations had completely disappeared. With a tail in one hand and a hook in the other I gave the camera a huge cheesy grin, knowing how impressed my dad was going to be when I showed him!

Black and Yellow Mangrove Mangrove (Boiga dendrophila)

** Another side note / disclaimer (needed for everything these days): The hooks that I speak of and that can be seen in the pictures do not cause any harm to the snakes. They merely act as an extended limb to safely manoeuvre the snake. **

Asian Vine snake (Ahaetulla nasuta)

Moving on… let’s just say that our next location quite literally had us in a bit of sticky situation, as we trudged our way through sinking mud, relying on the nearest branches alongside us to assist in pulling us out with each sinking step. Might I just add, it was at this point I noticed the rather large huntsman spiders that were sitting right at home amongst these branches…. quite the surprise to my careless grabbing hand. Anyway, it wasn’t long before we came across what ended up being my favourite species of the herping trip. The Asian Vine snake (Ahaetulla nasuta). What an absolutely stunning species. Its striking green pigment and piercing eyes had me fall completely in love. What I will say is its crazy how at ease Agus and Rani had me feeling about free handling a wild, venomous reptile. Granted it was rear fanged venomous, with a potency level not really worth losing sleep over, and it was slightly cool out making the snakes a lot less active, but nevertheless, there wasn’t a single moment that had me fearful of getting bitten. Maybe it was my pure captivation of such a beautiful animal, maybe it was Agus and Ranis’ aura, maybe it was both, but one thing is for sure, the thought didn’t once cross my mind. When it came to releasing the Vine snake, we noticed that it had some stuck shed on its tail. This can constrict the blood flow to the tip of the tail as the snake grows resulting in the tip of the tail dying… so we assisted in removing the shed before we sent it on its way.

A little while passed before we saw our next snake. Agus had completely gone out of sight at one point, only to return a little while later with non-other than a White lipped tree viper (Trimeresurus albolabris).This we gave a miss when it came to handling… a regret for Dan but a decision I stand by to this day… I’m not trying to tempt fate, you know? But what an unbelievable way to end our herping adventure!!

I cannot thank Agus and Rani enough for the incredible experience they gave us, and of course the Bali Reptile Rescue in assisting me to make it happen. Their work and the dedication of people like Agus and Rani is vital to ensuring the survival of Bali’s wild snake populations.

I just want to add, for those that are concerned about the well being of the snakes found during our herping trip in regards to them being handled or disturbed, that this isn’t a highly demanded tourist attraction. It was an educational trip proving both valuable to myself, and to volunteers like Agus and Rani, in monitoring snakes numbers and diversity in a given area and the overall wellbeing of the snakes through conducting health checks, much like that carried out with the stuck shed removal on the Asian vine snake. Education is the key to ensuring all wildlife survival, especially those that are so negatively perceived and feared such as snakes.

Meg x



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