TIMOR-LESTE 2012

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

Dili, Dili District

I caught my Lufthansa flight from Birmingham to Frankfurt with a short transfer time before the next flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Unfortunately the first flight left 40 minutes late which resulted in it landing at Frankfurt at about the same time my onward flight was boarding. I ran to catch the next flight but was concerned my baggage would not make the connection. It was impossible for Lufthansa to confirm whether my bags were on board but the fact that this flight too was delayed gave me hope.

When we had refueled at Bangkok the aircrew were finally able to confirm my bags were on board and at Kuala Lumpur I watched them unloaded, a great relief, but my problems were not over. I went through Immigration at Kuala Lumpur International Airport and met Hinrich Kaiser and Caitlin Sanchez, arrived from the US. We then took a taxi to the LCCT (KL's low-cost airline terminal) to catch our onward Air Asia flight to Denpasar, Bali. It was at the Air Asia check-in counter that I discovered that I had lost my passport. This would normally be a disaster as you cannot travel without one and which would have meant I stayed in Kuala Lumpur and reported to the British Embassy the next day.

Fortunately I carry two valid British passports, in order to travel using one while obtaining visas using the other, and so I was able to use the second one to check-in for the flight. The next problem was that I had to exit Malaysia without an entry stamp, but explaining the situation to Malaysia Immigration achieved the necessary exit stamp. Since the Bali flight was also delayed I was able to report the loss of the passport to the Police. There was nothing more I could do and we eventually flew to Bali, arriving at 03:30 in the morning to meet with Andrew Kathriner (a gecko specialist from Phase IV) and Sven Mecke (a skink specialist from Phase VI) who had flown in from the US and Germany, respectively.

We got four hours sleep and then went back to the airport to catch our final flight, a Merpati flight to Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport, Dili, Timor-Leste, arriving in the early afternoon.



Map of west Dili showing the airport and the Timor Lodge Hotel
(click to enlarge)

 

Journey's End: Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport, Dili
(click any image to enlarge & note mouse-over symbol)
Arriving at Timor Lodge Hotel Our chalets 35 & 36
click to enlarge images

After the long flights we were just pleased to check into the Timor Lodge Hotel, our usual base in Timor-Leste and only 5 minutes from the airport.

For a description and general views around the Timor Lodge Hotel see Phase III.

We got two of our regular chalets (35 & 36) and Hinrich and I settled down for some rest but it was not long before the younger members of the team went herping.

Soon after Andrew came running in to say they had corralled a monitor lizard in the compound.

I found the three triumphant young herpetologists standing around a metal pipe that protruded vertically from the ground. Inside was a pile of rocks and, I was assured, a monitor lizard. I pulled out several of the rocks and dislodged a Common house gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus) before grabbing a young Timor monitor lizard (Varanus timorensis) by the tail.

Caitlin, Andrew & Sven with the monitor lizard
from the pipe in the ground in front of them
Timor monitor lizard
Varanus timorensis

Job done I went back to get some much-needed sleep, there was much to arrange over the next few days in Dili.

We store much of our field equipment in a container at the TLH, through the kindness of the manager Kemal. While Caitlin and the boys sorted the equipment from the container Hinrich and I went down to Rentló to organise our vehicles, two Toyota Troopies with roof-racks. Maintenance manager Russell sorted out a back door that would not close, removed a toe-hitch that would bottom out on the "district roads," and fixed a broken side window.

We also discovered that none of the Jets would be able to join us on Phase VII.
Benny was still studying in Australia and although he had planned to return to Dili it now looked like he would be unable to get back while we were in-country.
Zito was working for an NGO called World Vision in his home district of Bobonaro.
Laca was working on Ataúro Island, but we heard he had caught a couple of snakes.
Luis was in town and would pay us a visit, but he too was in work and unable to join the project this time around.

We were Jet-less for the first time in the history of the Reptile and Amphibian Survey of Timor-Leste, which had been running since 2009.

The ever enthusiastic Caitlin, Andrew and Sven continued to herp in the grounds again and caught a Roti Island house gecko (Hemidactylus cf. tenkatei) and a Rice-paddy frog (Fejervarya sp.), both species we knew well from the TLH grounds.

Rice-paddy frog
Fejervarya sp.
Roti Island house gecko
Hemidactylus cf. tenkatei
(note the mouse-over symbol)

We planned to remain at TLH over the weekend, using it as our base for a one day trip to the Meleotegi River in Ermera District, whilst prepare for the trips east to Baucau the next week and west to Oecusse once our visas to pass through Indonesian West Timor were issued. Each morning at TLH we took breakfast by the pool but one morning we were joined by a Timor praying mantis (Hierodula timorensis) which was also dining, ambushing bees as they visited flowers in the tree above us. A closer examination revealed a third species, a fly that was feeding on left-overs around the mantid's mouth, a dangerous life-style, one might think.

Timor praying mantis, Hierodula timorensis
having a bee for breakfast

 

A large Asiatic rhinoceros beetle (Oryctes rhinoceros) also bumbled into us as we walked back from the TLH restaurant one evening.

Asiatic rhinoceros beetle Oryctes rhinoceros

I got busy photographing some of the specimens we wanted to release before leaving for Oecusse, amongst them the young Timor monitor lizard (Varanus timorensis) who went to great lengths to bite me, something he achieved twice, only relinquishing his grip reluctantly and after causing considerable pain and some loss of blood.

The tenacious monitor lizard would not let go
Photo: Andrew Kathriner

Whilst we were busy with specimens, photography and fieldwork preparations Luis came to visit us and through him we recruited Paulo Pinto as a potential new Jet to accompany us and act as interpreter. Twenty-seven years of age with ten years of education, he was keen to improve himself through vocational courses in English and computer science but he also had an interest in wildlife. Like Laca he came from near Lospalos in Lautém District, and Luis assured us he was also an accomplished snake catcher, having assistend the Jets during their final year's degree projects.