Location of OBA film 2:3
The Kimberley, Western Australia (mouse-over for view of northern Western Australia)
THE QUEST SPECIES ROUGH-SCALED PYTHON Morelia carinata
The Rough-scaled python (Morelia carinata) is the least-known of Australia's 17 species of python, and also the species with the smallest known range as it is confined to the northwestern Mitchell Plateau region of the Kimberley, northern Western Australia.
The first specimen (1.98 m) was collected in 1973*, from the Mitchell River falls while a second specimen, a 1.2 m male, was collected in 1987 from the Hunter River gorge, Prince Frederik Harbour, 80 kms to the west. Both were mistaken for Northwestern carpet pythons (Morelia spilota variegata) and vouchered as museum specimens. Only later was it realised that these snakes were different, that they possessed strongly keeled scales (the only pythons with keeled scales) and a distinctive enlarged frontal scute between the eyes in the centre of the head. The species was subsequently described (Smith, 1981) and the hunt was on to capture live specimens.
John Weigel and his team from the Australian Reptile Park at Gosford made several trips to the Hunter River gorge in the search for live specimens and managed to capture a 0.8 m male in June 1993 (Weigel & Russell, 1993). Weigel and Russell obtained a second specimen, a 1.38 m female, from the same location in May 1994. There were also rumours that a fifth specimen had been smuggled out of the area by another person. By 2000 only 4-5 specimens were therefore known, two in museums and 2-3 in collections.
Whilst we had been in New South Wales, filming "On the Edge" we tookthe opportunity to visit ARP and meet the existing pair of "roughies". The aim of our 2000 expedition was to join John Weigel and his ARP team on search to capture additional specimens for a captive breeding program.
* The original description (Smith, 1981) records the date of collection as 14 January 1973 but Weigel & Russell, 1993, report the year as 1976. Kend 1997, states that this specimen is an adult male, but Barker & Barker 1994, cited it as an adult female. Smith, in his original description, notes the presence of cloacal spurs but not their size nor the sex of the specimen.
Barker, D.A. & T. Barker 1994 Pythons of the World Volume 1. Australia. The Herpetocultural Library. xviii+171 pp.
Kend, B.A. 1997Pythons of Australia. Canyonlands Publishing, Utah. 206pp.
Smith, L.A. 1981 A revision of the pythons of genera Aspidites and Python (Serpentes: Boidae) in Western Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum. 9(2):211-226.[ click here to obtain pdf]
Weigel, J. & T. Russell 1993 A record of a third specimen of the Rough-scaled python Morelia carinata. Herpetofauna 23(2):1-5.
Rough-scaled python, Morelia carinata note the keeled scales and the enlarged frontal scute
Map of the Kimberley, Western Australia, showing filming locations (click on map for enlarged view)
Facts about the Kimberley (sources Wikipedia and others)
At 2,645,615 sq.km Western Australia is the Commonwealth of Australia's largest state, equivalent in size to 80% of that of India. Yet its population of under 2.4 million is less than 0.2% that of India. Over 1.7 million Western Australians live around the state capital of Perth in the southwest, leaving fewer that 700,000 people to populate the rest of this huge region. Many areas within Western Australia are extremely thinly inhabited and the Kimberley is one such (as is the Pilbara further south, the setting for OBA 2.2 "The Pilbara Cobra").
The Kimberley is the northermost of the nine regions of Western Australia. It has an area of 423,517 sq.km. which makes it three times the size of England, yet it is home to a population of only 41,000, equivalent to fewer than one person for every 10 sq.km., slightly less than the population density of the Pilbara. The main towns are Kununurra, which was our "jump off point" for "After the Flood", Durack, and Broome, our "jump off point" for OBA 2.9 "Sea Serpents".
Much of the Kimberley comprises vast areas of sandstone and limestone cut deeply by river gorges and it experiences a tropical monsoon type climate. Many areas can only be accessed on foot, by river or by helicopter, there being no roads. The Hunter River gorge area is just such an area.
The Film Crew and Expedition Participants
From the UK:
David Wright (Director)
Robert Pendlebury (Associate Producer)
Mark O'Shea (Presenter)
Des Seal (Camera)
Matthew Seal (Assistant camera)
Terry Meadowcroft (Sound recordist)
In Australia: Contributors:
John Weigel (owner, Australian Reptile Park)
Alf Britton (friend of John Weigel)
Robert Porter (herpetologist & ARP manager) Support:
Tenzing Sherpa (cook & camp coordinator)
David Pearson (herpetologist, CALM, WA)
Tannock (herpetologist, CALM, WA)
Part of the Kimberley team
(l-r) John Weigel (ARP), Ann Ward (expedition doctor) & Mark O'Shea
in the Hunter River gorge.
click to enlarge
The Kimberley team
(l-r) Des Seal, Terry Meadowcroft, Matt Seal, David Wright, Mark O'Shea, Tenzing Sherpa, David Pearson, Ann Ward, Robert Porter, Alf Britton, Ben Tannock, Robert Pendlebury
photo: John Weigel
. click to enlarge
The aim of the expedition was to join John Weigel and his colleagues and friends from the Australian Reptile Park (ARP) on a hunt to capture a pair of Rough-scaled pythons (Morelia carinata) for the captive breeding program. At the time of our expedition this rare and poorly known species of python was known from two museum voucher specimens, two specimens photographed but not collected by the ARP team, two specimens collected by the ARP team (with licences from the WA Government CALM*) and possibly one illegally held specimen elsewhere. The two specimens at ARP were the only legally held captive specimens in the world and John was anxious to improve the breeding pool by obtaining two more snakes. We would be based at his usual campsite, a location he affectionately called "Shangri-La".
* CALM = Western Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management, formed in 1985 from an amalgamation of the National Parks Authority of WA, the Dept. of Fisheries and Wildlife and Forests Dept. In 2006 the Dept. of Environment merged with CALM to form the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC). We had two CALM officers with us on the expedition (see personnel list above).
The locations in Western Australia visited during filming of "After The Flood" were:
Filming schedule & itinerary:
Wednesday 31st May - Arrive Kununurra, WA
Thursday 1st June - Kununurra, WA
Friday 2nd June - Mitchell Plateau & Hunter River, WA
Saturday 3rd June - Hunter River, WA
Sunday 4th June - Hunter River, WA
Monday 5th June - Hunter River, WA
Tuesday 6th June - Hunter River, WA
Wednesday 7th June - Hunter River, WA
Thursday 8th June - Hunter River, WA
Friday 9th June - Hunter River, WA
Saturday 10th June - Hunter River, WA
Sunday 11th June - Hunter River, WA
Monday 12th June - Hunter River & return to Kununurra, WA
Tuesday 13th June - Kununurra, WA
Wednesday 14th June - Kununurra, WA, to Darwin, NT
Thursday 15th June - Darwin, NT, return UK