PAPUA NEW GUINEA 2013

Central Province
Lea Lea Road
(aka Papa Swamp Road)

The second location near NCD where we were to concentrate our attention was around the Exxon-Mobil LNG site approximately 18 km northwest of Port Moresby. The pest removal teams working on the site have captured a few venomous snakes, mostly Papuan taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus canni) or Lesser black whipsnakes (Demansia vestigiata) from locations on the LNG site. Some are captured alive but many have already been injured by back-hoes and other heavy plant, or deliberately killed by workers who do not understand the requirement that they be taken alive. Dave felt we needed to be on the site or very close to it in order to capture snakes alive and healthy, especially as several rare Papuan blacksnakes (Pseudechis papuanus) have turned up on the site in recent years.

Our first trip was a recce of the location. We drove out of Port Moresby on the Napa Napa Road and then continued north on the Lea Lea Road (aka Papa Swamp Road) when the Napa Napa road turned south onto the peninsula opposite Port Moresby. The entire journey takes about 30 minutes.

We initial plan was to search the creeks, grasslands and woodlands beyond the Exxon fences. On our first drive out to the location we encountered a bush fire that was moving towards the road. We have learned from experience that if you place yourself ahead of such a fire and snakes are fleeing it you have a good chance of encountering them.

The fire was burning fast in a strong wind moving across the ground towards the road
Corvids and Raptors
were picking off some of the creatures fleeing the fire

We watched corvids and raptors wheeling ahead of the flames and smoke, diving and swooping to take creatures fleeing the fire .... but they were not the only predators waiting ahead of the blaze. Owen and I wandered up the road in the smoke to await any snakes trying to cross the road, a proven trick for catching Papuan taipan. We waited patiently, eyes stinging, and trying to avoid being hit by trucks coming out of the smoke!

Smoke on the road made snakes (and oncoming trucks) difficult to see
Owen on guard duty Mark awaiting snakes

In the end, all we got was a large Papuan carpet python (Morelia spilota ssp.) which oddly dived onto the road from the other side and tried to hide under the Troopie!

First live Papuan carpet python, Morelia spilota ssp.

We drove out to the Exxon-Mobil location many times and commonly saw carpet pythons on the road, mostly dead on road (DOR). I counted at least six on the road to the site and they were not the only dead snakes on the road, we also encountered several DOR Papuan taipans (Oxyuranus scutellatus canni).

DOR
Papuan carpet python
Morelia spilota ssp.
DOR
Papuan taipan
Oxyuranus scutellatus canni

 

Mark and Jasper with first
Papuan carpet python

Morelia spilota ssp.

Mark capturing a second
Papuan carpet python
Morelia spilota ssp.

I did capture a second live Carpet python in a culvert besides the road oppsite the LNG site. All pythons captured alive were released some distance from the highway or any human settlements.

Second live Papuan carpet python, Morelia spilota ssp.