PAPUA NEW GUINEA 2006

 

Sagarai River valley and the south coast
Milne Bay Province
19 September - 2 October 2006


Map showing the routes and collection localities in Milne Bay Province, PNG.
click to enlarge map

From Alotau to the southern coast is a longer journey than to the north coast. The road zig-zags west through the Waigani Plantation over the Maiware River, southeast along the Pini Mountain Range over the Gumini River, over the mountains, and then west again up the Sagarai River valley to a series of oil palm plantations scattered north of Mullins Harbour.

The road from Alotau through Waigani and over the Pini Range to the Sagarai River plantations.

The road through the Waigani oil palm plantation, enroute to the Pini Mountain Range, and in the Sagarai Valley on the other side, proved a productive place for snakes although unfortunately many specimens were DOR: Common treesnake (Dendrelaphis punctulatus) three DOR; Brown treesnake (Boiga irregularis) three DOR; Diehl's little ground snake (Stegonotus diehli) three live and one DOR; Slatey-grey snake (S.cucullatus) one DOR; McDowell's ground boa (Candoia paulsoni mcdowelli) one live; Southern white-lipped python (Leiopython hoserae) six DOR and one live 2.0m specimen; and a Papuan olive python (Apodora papuana) one live 3.0m specimen; total twenty snakes but only six were captured alive.

SNAKES from WAIGANI and SAGARAI
click to enlarge
Diehl's litte ground snake, Stegonotus diehli
McDowell's ground boa, Candoia paulsoni mcdowelli
2.0m Southern white-lipped python, Leiopython hoserae

The 3.0m Papuan olive python was the largest snake encountered during the 2006 expedition. It was lying across the road after dark near Sagarai as the team road-cruised. Not wishing to miss capturing the python Wolfgang and I bailed out of the still moving ute, and ended up coated in roadside mud. We need not have bothered, the python never made any attempt to escape.

3.0m Papuan olive python, Apodora papuana

The Sagarai River oil palm plantations are located 80-100kms from Alotau. These extensive plantations were established on an area of former kunai grassland.

The local plantation clinic.

Whilst driving around the plantation we were drawn to a bush fire, started by local bandicoot hunters on the edge of the plantation. On the road we found a speared Papuan taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus canni) , driven out of the kunai grass by the flames and killed by a hunter. In the hopes of obtaining live specimens we lingered on the track and before long captured the first of a series of live taipans.

Our first clue: a speared Papuan taipan, Oxyuranus scutellatus canni
Bush fire set by bandicoot hunters. Hunters waiting for bandicoots to flee the fire.
The first Sagarai River taipan is bagged.

Following the success of capturing a live taipan in one of the Sagarai River plantations we decided to concentrate our attentions in this area, driving down from Alotau very early in the morning to catch the snakes as they emerged from cover to bask.

Snakebusters PNG 2006 in taipan country, southern Milne Bay Province.
Mark O'Shea, Timothy Bosalidi, Jasper Gabugabu & David Williams.

Oil palm plantations consist of rows of palms surrounded on two sides by frondrows of cut and discarded palm fronds and backed by a higher windrow of felled trees or palms. Since these plantations were established on former savanna, typical taipan habitat, they were now home to a large population of taipan that took advantage of the increased habitat and prey possibilities.

Sagarai River oil palm habitat.

 

Windrows formed from felled palms and trees will become ideal taipan habitat.
Taipan may also be captured
fleeing bandicoot hunter's fires.

Frogs encountered in the Sagarai River plantations were the common species: White-lipped treefrog (Litoria infrafrenata) and Southern treefrog (L.congenita). Lizards ranged from small skinks, Eastern four-fingered skink (Carlia eothen), Long-tailed skink (Emoia longicauda), Burton's snake-lizard (Lialis burtonis), the larger Brown sheen skink (Eugongylus rufescens), and two medium-sized Southern giant blue-tongue skinks (Tiliqua gigas evanescens) crossing roads on the fringe of the oil palm plantation.

OTHER HERPS from SAGARAI RIVER
click to enlarge
White-lipped treefrog, Litoria infrafrenata
Southern treefrog, Litoria congenita
Burton's snake-lizard, Lialis burtonis
Eastern four-fingered skink, Carlia eothen
Southern giant blue-tongue skink, Tiliqua gigas evanescens

 

Photographing herps in the Sagarai River plantations.

 

Other snakes encountered or captured in the Sagarai River oil palm plantations were Common treesnake (Dendrelaphis punctulatus) and Papuan treesnake (D.papuensis), one live each; McDowell's ground boa (Candoia paulsoni mcdowelli), three live, and Black whipsnake (Demansia vestigiata), one live specimen, the only other elapid, apart from taipans, encountered.

OTHER SNAKES from SAGARAI RIVER
click to enlarge
McDowell's ground boa, Candoia paulsoni mcdowelli
Common treesnake, Dendrelaphis punctulatus
Black whipsnake, Demansia vestigiata

Extensive searching for Papuan taipan in the Sagarai River oil palm plantations was highly successful. In nine days the expedition encountered 43 live taipan and five dead specimens (killed by hunters or plantation vehicles). Of the 43 live specimens, we were quick enough to capture ten, up to about 2.5m in length, by carefully patrolling the paths between the oil palm rows in the early mornings as they came out to bask.

David and Jasper searching for taipan. Mark and Timothy searching for taipan.
Jasper with bagged taipan. Timothy with bagged taipan.
Papuan taipans, Oxyuranus scutellatus canni fromthe Sagarai River plantations.

There is suitable taipan habitat further west. We made a short foray to recce the possibilities.

Heading west of Mullins Harbour.
Mangrove monitor lizard, Varanus indicus,
near Mairewatti, west of Mullins Harbour.

We asked the children in one of the plantation villages to catch a few skinks for our death adders at the Serpentarium. We expected a few dozen but they captured several hundred in a few hours, mostly Eastern four-fingered skinks and a few Black-striped forest skinks (Sphenomorphus nigrolineatus). We released most of the skinks although it was not as simple a task as one might assume - I found two more in my hair several miles down the road.

Local children (and adults) caught
skinks by the hundred.
Releasing skinks.
Releasing skinks is not as easy as it might appear, they get everywhere.