PAPUA NEW GUINEA 2006

 

Popondetta to Oro Bay
Oro Province
19-24 October 2006


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

David was unable to join me for the Oro Province phase of the project so I flew up to Popondetta alone. This was to be my first trip to Oro Province.

To work efficiently I needed mobility and the only vehicle available for hire in the whole of Popondetta was an old red Nissan Patrol with dodgy electrics and underpowered headlights, which was costing K800 (£140) a day.

Lamington Lodge, Popendetta. The old red Nissan Patrol.

My accommodation was the Lamington Lodge in Popondetta, named for volcanic Mt Lamington which has brooded over the town since it last erupted, in 1951, with the loss of over 3000 lives.

 

Gabby Cris, my field assistant in Oro Province.


I made contact with personnel from the Higaturu Oil Palm Estates who had offered to help in our search for venomous snakes. The Environmental Officer, John Hula loaned me one if his men, Gabby Cris.

 

 

I spent the rest of the  day and evening driving east to Oro Bay and west, halfway to Kokoda taking GPS readings for the bridges, creeks and other features that might be important in my search for brownsnakes and small-eyed snakes. All I found on the recce was a DOR Brown treesnake (Boiga irregularis) near the airport.

 

B-25 Mitchell "Bat Outta Hell" at Popendetta.

 

The road to Oro Bay passes Popendetta Airport where a wrecked WWII B-25 Mitchell bomber still stands bearing the legend Bat Outta Hell on its nose-cone.

 

 

 

The road passes through oil palm plantations in the shadow of 1680m volcanic Mt Lamington.

Oil palm estates on the Oro Bay road.
Foothills of Mt Lamington.
Mt Lamington broods in the distance.

The few early brownsnake records that  exist came from the vicinity of Embogo, three-quarters of the way to Oro Bay, and small-eyed snakes were reportedly common in the coconut (copra) plantations of the curiously mis-named Mamba Estates, on the Mambare River, to the west of Kokoda. I planned to visit the Mambas Estates once I had searched for brownsnakes in the Higaturu Estates oil palms plantations.

Embogo Mission, enroute Oro Bay,
location of several early brownsnake records.
Oro Bay,oil palm port,
road lined with rusty WWII ordnance.

Kokoda, at the northern end of  the famous Kokoda Trail, and the small missions at Gona, Buna and Sanananda, on the coast to the northeast of Popondetta, are all important Pacific War sites, marking the battles where Australian troops finally turned the advance of the Japanese during 1942 and early 1943. The area is rich in war relics, and presumably unexploded ordance.

There is a large war memorial garden in Popendetta containing plaques to the compatants and details of the battles of Kokoda, Buna, Gona and Sanananda.

Popondetta War Memorial.
Anti-aircraft gun in memorial gardens.
Popendetta Memorial. The Battle for the Beachheads.
Memorial to Battles at Buna, Gona
and Sanananda in 1942-43.

 

Memorial to the Kokoda Campaign in 1942.

On our first morning out, Gabby Cris and I found a large DOR Slatey-grey snake (Stegonotus cucullatus). When we stopped to examine it a crowd gathered immediately including the young women with a bush knife who had killed it earlier and thrown it on a fire before it was thrown onto the road to be run over.

DOR Slatey-grey snake, Stegonotus cucullatus
The women who killed the snake is on the left
with the bush knife.

The best find on the road occurred one evening as I returned to my hotel, having dropped Gabby Cris at his village. Rounding a junction off the main Kokoda to Oro Bay road I saw a snake in the darkness and was forced to capture it in the extremely unconventional manner retold in The Herptile 33(1):10-35. The snake was a large New Guinea small-eyed snake (Micropechis ikaheka), the medically important venomous species I had planned to seek on the Mamba Estates at Kokoda.

Nissan Patrol at the Popendetta junction,
capture locality for the
New Guinea small-eyed snake,
Micropechis ikaheka
Direction of travel, Kokoda towards Popendetta, symbol marks location of snake in road.

 

New Guinea small-eyed snake, Micropechis ikaheka from Popondetta