PAPUA NEW GUINEA 2013

 

National Capital District
Port Moresby
Charles Campbell Toxinology Centre

In Port Moresby I picked up a Nissan Patrol with only 72kms on the clock and road-tyres. I was nervous about taking it to Edevu with the jungle so close to the already severely potholed road, and a 20,000 Kina* bond against damage. Iwould have preferred something older that had a few bumps and dents already, though possible not as bad as the one I drove in Oro Province, back in 2006.
*20,000 Kina = £5,720 or €6,715 or US$8,960!

My new Nissan Patrol
Damn! its clean inside!

When I left for Edevu a week earlier Dave had two juvenile Saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) he had rescued from roadside sellers. We have done this before and released the crocs into the Laloki River when they have been given a heads-start. When he got these two crocs they were of a size where a large heron would not say "No thanks" to a croc-flavoured snack, but now they are growing, and one was also continually escaping into the office so walking around barefoot in the dark was not a good idea.

So when I left there were two small puk puks (Tok Pisin for crocodile) in the office, but when I returned, and needed to use the table Dave had set aside for me, I discovered I was now sharing it with a third, puk puk he had just rescued at the roadside.

Puk puk is Tok Pisin for Crocodile
There are now three of them in the office
They are cute at this size
Saltwater crocodile, Crocodylus porosus

All supplies were organised, the hire car was hired, emails were answered, there was only the Snek Haus to visit for additional equipment and to check all the snakes that the morning, before heading back to Edevu around midday for a further week of fieldwork. We also received a phone call from Jasper to say they had captured a Smooth-scaled death adder (Acanthophis laevis) at Edevu.

At the Snek Haus I checked the two Papuan taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus canni), captured by Owen on the road to Edevu and by Jasper from the hill we call Phone Booth Hill. They were in quarantine in their disposable hide-boxes so I did not disturb them unduly.

The problem was that Jasper's taipan has somehow managed to get a piece of hide-box tape around its head and that had to be carefully removed by Owen and myself, a difficult business at the best of times, but especially so when it involves getting one's fingers very close to the fangs of an ungrateful and highly venomous serpent. We were successul but in so doing the taipan lost the glossy surface layer of its scales, but they should recover after a few sloughs.

Above: Owen's Papuan taipan
Below: Jasper's Papuan taipan
Oxyuranus scutellatus canni
in quarantine in the Snek Haus

By late morning I was about ready to go back into the bush. I would take the Patrol and Dave and Owen, neither of whom would be staying, would accompany me in the Troopie with extra fuel and supplies. Dave was due to fly to Australia the next day and Owen had lectures to present st the Medical Faculty. It looked like an uneventual afternoon leading up to a leisurely drive back to Edevu.

But all that was about to change when Dave got the call from David Matthews, out at Exxon-Mobil LNG. He was digging out a large Papuan blacksnake (Pseudechis papuanus) which had been exposed in a burrow by a bulldozer scouring the ground along the perimeter fence. He had the posterior third secured and said the snake had a superficial cut from the bulldozer, and he reckoned to have the entire snake out by the time we arrived. Dave, Owen and I set out for the half-hour drive to the location, aiming to meet David Matthews at the Frog Pond outside the instalation.

While we waiting I noticed I had a headache starting. From where its came I had no idea but it was becoming increasinglypresent and oppressive.

Eventully Dave Matthews and his two off-siders arrived with a snake bag. He said it was a large snake and it had been trying to bite everything it came into contact with, so we decided not to check its injury until we got back to the Snek Haus. Owen called his wife Mary, a medical doctor and skilled surgeon, to ask her to meet us in case the snake needed to have its wound sutured.

We collect the Papuan blacksnake,
Pseudechis papuanus,
from David Matthews and his crew at Frog Pond
Back at the Snek haus we accessed the snake's condition with Dr Mary Paiva

Back at the Snek Haus we dropped the Papuan blacksnake into a plastic sack for examination. Mary, and Roseanne, arrived to examined the snake. The posterior wound David Matthews had mentioned was relatively superficial, the skin was peeled back but there was not other apparent damage and it was nothing a few sutures would not fix. But there was another wound, much more serious and certainly life threatening, on the anterior of the body, one that would have been hidden from Dave while he hung onto the posterior third as the snake was being extracted.

A large area of skin had been peeled back exposing and breaking ribs, tearing muscle and exposing the lung which, miraculously, appeared unharmed. We thought the spine was broken, there was certainly a large dip in the back, but the posterior of the body and the tail responded well to stimuli and appeared unaffected. We hoped with quick surgery we could save the snake, a female of approximately 2.0 m long, and seemingly gravid.

The anterior wound is serious, there is consiiderable muscle damage and loss, and the lung is exposed, but not punctured. There is little blood loss.
We start the two-hour operationto save the
Papuan blacksnake

The five of us embarked on a two-hour operation to try and save this superb specimen, Mary executing some marvellous suturing where muscle and scales had been completely lost.

Mary sutured the muscle together as best she could and brought the skin and scales back to there original position but the snake was left with a great hollow on its left side where it had lost tissue. The posterior wound was more easily sutured.

Pulling muscle together
Improvising catgut sutures
using a needle
and closing up

At the end of the operation the snake was given antibiotics and placed in a darkened cage to be left it in Owen's care as I was due to head back into the jungle and Dave was flying to Australia the next morning.

Dave and Mark with the female Papuan blacksnake
and the quite recovery room cage