Map of Karnataka State, Southwest India showing primary and secondary locations (click on map for enlarged view)
Our first stop after leaving Mangalore was the Sri Krishna Sagri Vasuki Templeat Udupi where we met the snake priest or Naga Patri, and viewed some of the cobra-related statues and artwork in the temple. We left Matthew behind at the airport to collect Bruce Young, the final member of the party, flying in from the United States.
Garuda, the eagle god, has power over snakes
From Udupi we drove to the town of Hebri and thence to the Seethanadi (aka Sida Nadi) Nature Camp on the Seethanadi River which drains down from the Agumbe Reserve a few kms to the east. The name Agumbe is today synonymous with king cobra conservation, largely due to the efforts of renowned herpetologist and conservationist Rom Whitaker, but back in 2001 it was less well known outside India. This was to be our base whilst in the Western Ghats and soon after our arrival Matt arrived with Bruce Young from Lafayette College in the US.
The Seethanadi chalet shared by the snakemen, Mohammad Anees, Bruce Young and myself
Views of the Seethanadi River
At Seethanadi we filmed Dr Asif Ali (aka Smokey) our expedition doctor and now a firm friend, sorting our medical kit and I explained the seriousness of a king cobra bite in a PTC (piece to camera) using a syringe to demonstrate how much venom they can inject. They do not possess especially toxic venom when compared to the smaller Common cobras (Naja naja, Naja kaouthia etc.) but they do produced a very large quantity and with such a yield it is quantity, not quality, that kills.
A PTC (piece to camera) from the rear of the vehicle
Asif Ali checks the medical kit - just in case!
Demonstrating how much venom a king cobra can inject - 6cc
And early morning or evening herping excursions around the location produced a few species. The following amphibians were present on the site: Asian black-spined toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) and Small-eared toad (Duttaphrynus microtympanum); Common skipper frog (Euphyctis cyanophlytis) and Indian bullfrog (Hoplobatrachus tigerinus); Golden frog (Hylarana aurantiaca), and Short-legged leaping frog (Indirana brachytarsus).
Amphibians from Seethanadi
Asian black-spined toad, Duttaphrynus melanostictus (juvenile)
Small-eared toad, Duttaphrynus microtympanum
Common skipper frog, Euphylctis cyanophylctis
Common skipper frog, Euphylctis cyanophylctis (unusual colouration)
Indian bullfrog, Hoplobatrachus tigerinus
Short-legged leaping frog, Indirana brachytarsus
Golden frog, Hylarana aurantiaca
The reptiles found at Seethanadi base camp were: Kandian day gecko (Cnemaspis kandianus), Brook's Asian house gecko (Hemidactylus brookii - not photographed), Leschenault's bark gecko (Hemidactylus leschenaulti), and three snakes, Sri Lankan catsnake (Boiga ceylonicus), a Chequered keelback (Xenochrophis piscator) - caught chasing frogs in the creek, and the endemic Travancore wolfsnake (Lycodon travancoricus). Great care was taken in the dark with this last specimen, checking for the presence of a loreal scale.
Wolfsnakes closely resemble the extremely deadly kraits (genus Bungarus) and the absense of a fang (not easy to discern) and the presence of a loreal scale (between the preocular and nasal scales) are the two best ways to tell a harmless wolfsnake from a lethal krait. The third method is far less desirable but it was only weeks since experienced herpetologist Joe Slowinski has made that mistake in Burma, and paid with his life!