INDIA
2001


"The Cobra's Revenge"

Bhitarkanika, Orissa State

Map of Orissa State, Northeast India showing primary and secondary locations
(click on map for enlarged view)

 

From Bhubaneshwar we drove six hours to Gupti on Bhitarkanika Island, encountering a Common garden lizard (Calotes versicolor) in a tree enroute, and then took a river boat the 1.5 hours down the Brahmini River and up a mangrove creek to the Dangamal Island landing stage.

Google Earth satellite map of Dangamal Island, Bhitarkanika, Orissa
click to enlarge

Enroute we met our local guide, a quite and incredibly gentle Hindu called Dumal. Once walking home with a bag of rice on his shoulder, he had encountered a large king cobra. Not wanting to place the rice on the wet ground he tried to catch the snake with his free hand but it reared and bit him on his nose. Taking our his knife he sliced off the tip of his nose and then heating the blade, cauterized the wound, the first man I had ever heard of who had "cut off his nose to save his face".

We also past some very large Saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) and a bloated, floating water buffalo carcase that was being torn to pieces under water by crocodiles, it bopped around like and angler's float. Vultures spread their wings on branches overhanging the river. This was not somewhere to fall overboard!

Our river boat enroute Dangamal Island
Sound recordist Terry in thoughful mood
Croc spotting
Two Saltwater crocodiles, Crocodylus porosus
feed on a water buffalo carcase
Meeting our guide, Dumal
Dumal explains how he cut of his nose to save his face!
Unloading all our equipment
Terry goes ashore

We arrived at the Dangamal Island landing stage and unloaded all our equipment and baggage.

The entrance to the Bhitarkanika National Park, a good place to work. Apple Mac G3 laptop, Shawn Jackson laptop bag, Lands End bag, RealTree luggage....
and my famous slough hat of course
Expedition medic Dr Asif Al,i loaded down with camera and medical equipment, sets out for the Dangamal Forest Guest House

The ranger station is a fairly long walk up a straight track from the landing stage and the only way to get equipment there is by hand cart.

The accomodationat the Dangamal Forest Guest House is very basic, which is fine, we were used to that, but my room was particularly unpleasent, infested with aggressive nocturnal biting ants which attacked me as soon as I stepped onto the worn, nasty red carpet in the darkness. I changed rooms. There is no form of communication other than the short-wave radio in the ranger station office.

Dumal pushes the hand cart up the
causeway to the station
Dangamal Ranger Station and Forest Guest House,
Bhitarkanika National Park
Habitat on Dangamal Island

Most of the island is mangrove forest but there are also pools of freshwater, patches of grassland and rice paddies, stands of palms and hardwoods. In the freshwater pools and grasslands we found Asian black-spined toads (Duttaphrynus melanostictus), Indian bullfrogs (Hoplobatrachus tigerinus), Indian skipper frogs (Euphlyctis cyanophlyctis - not photographed), Common Indian treefrog (Polypedates maculatus) and Sri Lankan painted frog (Kaloula taprobanica), belying the brackish nature of most of the island.

Amphibians from Bhitarkanika
Asian black-spined toad,
Duttaphrynus melanostictus
Indian bullfrog,
Hoplobatrachus tigerinus
Sri Lankan painted frog,
Kaloula taprobanica
Common Indian treefrog,
Polypedates maculatus

 

Mangrove swamp vegetation,
home of water monitor lizards

Bruce struggles to get out of the mud
after a failed capture of a monitor that demonstrated greater agility in this habitat

 

We spent most of our time searching for king cobras in the mangrove swamps, a particularly difficult habitat to negotiate due to the glutinous sticky mud, but we failed to find any cobras, king of common. The most frequently encountered reptiles were the South Asian water monitor lizards (Varanus salvator macromaculatus) and we say dozens, often several running in different directions at the same time. We chased monitor lizards round and round in circles until eventually Anees managed to capture one. The only other lizards encountered was Brook's Asian house gecko (Hemidactylus brookii) in the habitations but Dumal brought in an Indian chameleon (Chameleo zeylanicus) he caught while walking up the straight causeway to the station.

Lizards from Bhitarkanika
Brook's Asian house gecko,
Hemidactylus brookii
Indian chameleon,
Chameleo zeylanicus
South Asian water monitor,
Varanus salvator macromaculatus

Snakes were also not much in evidence. We found a dead juvenile Common krait (Bungarus caeruleus), the only venomous species met with, and caught a Common wolfsnake (Lycodon aulicus) and two Dog-faced watersnakes (Cerberus rynchops - one live, one dead) in the mangrove swamp. Also at the ranger station I photographed a Burmese rock python (Python bivittatus) found within the reserve, possibly close to the southern-most extent of the species' range in India.

 

Snakes from Bhitarkanika
Common Asian wolfsnake,
Lycodon aulicus
Dog-faced watersnake,
Cerberus rynchops
Burmese rock python,
Python bivittatus

We also went out onto the river in a canoe, the film crew, Anees and myself, and followed a large crocodile which entered the water from the mud as we approached. We were told this was the largest crocodile in the river (a 7.0 m male). At Director Julian's suggestion we followed behind the crocodile in our canoe, which appeared not much longer or wider than the crocodile. He put up with us tailing him for a while and then he suddenly submerged and disappeared. When he did not reappear I looked back the way we had come, only to see the crocodile was now following us.

A large Saltwater crocodile, Crocodylus porosus
slides into the water
Saltwater crocodile, Crocodylus porosus

 

 

Director Julian with Mohammad Anees
Mark with
Indian chameleon, Chameleo zeylanicus
Mohammah Anees with
South Asian water monitor lizard,
Varanus salvator macromaculatus
Bruce Young
with a flower behind his ear !

We stayed at Bhitarkanika for five days and nights and then left downstream. When we left the station guards and workers gathered to wave us off on our journey.

The rangers and workers wave us off


 

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