PAPUA NEW GUINEA 2013

Oro Province
Mamba
(first visit)

The Mamba Estates are named, not for the highly venomous African snakes of genus Dendroaspis, but for the Mambare River that flows through them on the eastern side of the Owen Stanley Mountains. The Mamba Estates started out as plantations for coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) and it is ironic that they should seemingly bear the name of a venomous snake because for many years they were reputedly home to a large population of New Guinea small-eyed snake (Micropechis ikaheka). Following a slump in the price of copra the coconuts were removed and the estates turned over to the cultivation of oil palm (Elaeis guineensis). According to the plantation officers the small-eyed snakes adapted from living in coconut husk piles to living under frondrows of oil palm fronds and the snakebite situation also persisted with a a meri (Papuan women) being was killed one week ago.

Map of Kokoda and Mamba Estates on the Mambare River, Oro Province
mouse-over for Google Earth satellite map and click for enlarged topographic map

I had planned a visit to Mamba in 2006 but having caught small-eyed snakes at Higatura did not need to make the journey. This time we had not captured any small-eyed snakes in the coastal lowlands so decided to make a trip to Mamba in the hopes of obtaining specimens there.

The drive to Mamba Estates from Popondetta takes about two hours, longer than previously because of the need to ford several rivers that lost their bridges to Cyclone Guba in 2007. On the first trip to Mamba I was accompanied by Owen Paiva from the Charles Campbell Toxinology Centre, driver Hayward Kirina from Higatura Estates and literally riding shotgun, security guard Eddie. The road is notorious for armed raskols who hold up vehicles like later-day highwaymen so armed security is considered necessary on such a journey.

Driver Hayward Security Eddie

We plannd to leave before 10:00 because the drive is two-hours long and in the afternoon the heavy rain common in the region can make the roads impassible. We did not leave until almost 11:30 we needed to pick up supplies and because the vitreous heamorrhage reoccured in my right eye. The symptoms were the same as at Edevu, two-weeks earlier, except this time my swimming vision was not red but light brown and this time my entire eye was affected, I could not focus on anything. On route to Mamba I made an eye patch out of a piece of blue sleeping mat and a bootlace to rest my eye, and Owen started calling me Jack Sparrow.

 

Mark resting on the journey, complete
with "Jack Sparrow" eye patch
One of the lost bridges on the Kokoda road

When we neared Mamba Estates we encountered a digger team who were building frondrows, between which the oil palms are grown. We stopped and asked if they had seen any snakes. They had just half-killed a large Southern white-lipped python (Leiopython hoserae) which was now writhing on the deck of the bulldozer. They pulled it out proudly to show us. The python had a chop across the back of its head and would surely die but they wanted it for food and it would remain fresh if they kept it just alive.

The crew of the digger with the
Southern white-lipped python, Leiopython hoserae
The Mamba Estate office (eft)
and guest house (right)
Mamba Estate Guest House "Jack" in the doorway.

At the Mamba Estate offices we met Samson, the health officer and junior manager, and the Field Manager Bob Wilson who asked us to do a snakes and snakebite presentations that evening.

An afternoon snake hunt did not produce any snakes.

Mark and Owen presenting again!

After the presentations were completed Owen went out again to look for snakes while I rested my eye at the accomodation. He returned with a Brown sheen skink (Eugongylus rufescens) and two large McDowell's bevel-nosed boas (Candoia paulsoni mcdowelli), one a gravid female. He also saw a dead New Guinea small-eyed snake (Micropechis ikaheka) in a ditch so the species is present and active.

McDowell's bevel-nosed ground boa,
Candoia paulsoni mcdowelli
gravid female below
Dead New Guinea small-eyed snake,
Micropechis ikaheka