Victor Valley College Tropical Research Initiative
Herpetofauna of Timor-Leste
Phase I

Logo of Victor Valley College Tropical Research Initiative
Crest of República Democrática de Timor-Leste.

July 14th to August 1st 2009

Map of Timor-Leste
(click to enlarge and view Phase I fieldwork locations)

Timor-Leste is one of the those places most people cannot place on the map.
They have heard of it, usually as East Timor, and they know there was a war there, but against whom and when many people are at pains to recall. Yet this tiny country's fight for independance was a heroic struggle against overwhelming opposition forces that cost it dear in both lives, infrastructure and resources. In 2002 Timor-Leste became the first new country of the 21st Century.



A Brief History of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
Pre-1500 Only visited by Javanese and Chinese traders
1509-1515 Portuguese arrive in eastern Timor
1568 Dutch arrive in western Timor
15th-19th C

Conflict between Portuguese and Dutch, and their Timorese allies, resulting in a division into
Dutch West Timor and Portuguese East Timor

WWII Japanese invade, Dutch resist, Portuguese neutral, Australians arrive
1949 West Timor becomes part of Indonesia after departure of Dutch
1975 Portuguese depart, brief period of independence, Indonesia invades, Balibo-Five journalists murdered
1976 East Timor declared 27th province of Indonesia, Falantil (Fretalin's military wing) resists with regular attacks on Indonesian troops and interests
1977-1999 Prolonged war of independence resulting in 100,000-200,000 Timorese dead
1999 Indonesians troops leave East Timor but pro-Indonesian militas continued massacres;
UN Australian-led InterFET peace-keeping force deployed to East Timor
1999-2002 East Timor administered by UN
2002 East Timor becomes first new country of the 21st Century


Today's ordinary man-in-the-street does not appear to be the only person with problems locating Timor-Leste. Over the past several centuries it seems that biologists have also passed Timor Island by, since very few surveys or collections of wildlife were made. Aside from small collections of material, primarily from West Timor, the herpetofauna of Timor-Leste is almost entirely unknown. Voucher specimens in the world's museums are scarce, and there never was an effort made by the former colonial power, Portugal, to learn about the amphibians and reptiles of their colony. Any specimens housed in the main museum in Lisbon would have been lost in a fire in 1975 and nothing of consequence has been published. Timor-Leste is herpetologically, virtually virgin territory.

Therefore, when Prof. Hinrich Kaiser of Victor Valley College, obtained permission to conduct a series of herpetological surveys, involving both Californian and Timorese students, through the generous offices of His Excellency, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão, President José Ramos-Horta, Manuel Mendes (Director of National Parks) and Augusto Pinto (Director of the Environment), he was largely starting with a blank canvas. After several recce trips to Timor-Leste to finalise permissions and investigate logistics, he invited Mark O'Shea on board as a guest researcher, since the herpetofauna of the Indo-Australian region is his speciality.

That the project got off the drawing board and into the field was down to a combined effort by Hinrich Kaiser and Claudia Abate, the Special Advisor to His Excellency, the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste.

Even in 2009 there is a large UN police presence with peace-keeping troops of several nations also present.


Traditional Timor head-dress.


The purpose of the expedition to Timor-Leste was to conduct the first herpetological survey of the country.

The expedition participants were:

Hinrich Kaiser (Instructor and Expedition Leader, Victor Valley College)
Mark O'Shea (Guest Researcher)

Victor Valley College and other Californian students:
Jester Ceballos
Scott Heacox
Caitlin Sanchez
Anne Suzio
Margaret Andrews
Paul Freed (herpetologist/retired zoo keeper)
Barbara Lester (retired zoo keeper)

Timorese students (Benny and the Jets):
Venancio Lopez Carvalho (Benny)
Luis Lemos
Agivedo Ribeiro (Laca)
Zito Afranio Soares

Mark O'Shea with Benny (right) and two of The Jets: Laca and Zito, at Baucau.

The locations in Timor-Leste visited during Phase I in 2009 were:

1. Ainaro District:
a) Dili to Maubisse
b) Maubisse, Ainaro District

2. Manufahi District:
a) Maubisse to Same
b) Same, Manufahi District

3. Ermera District:
a) Same to Eraulo
b) Sta Bakhita & Meleotegi River, Eraulo, Ermera District

4. Viqueque District:
a) Eraulo to Loi Huna
b) Loi Huna, 1okms north of Viqueque, Viqueque District

5. Lautem District:
a) Viqueque to Loré
b) Loré, Lautem District

6. Lautem District:
a) Loré to Tutuala
b) Pantai Walu, Tutuala, Lautem District
c) Lake Ira Lalaro, Lautem District

7. Baucau District:
a) Tutuala to Baucau
b) Baucau, Baucau District

8. Dili District:
a) Baucau to Dili
b) Dili, Dili District
(includes photographs of our meeting with President José Ramos-Horta at the Presidential Palace)

Expedition Results - a full life-list for the 2009 expedition to Timor-Leste.