Victor Valley College Tropical Research Initiative
Herpetofauna of Timor-Leste
Dili, Dili District
Map of west Dili showing the airport and the Timor Lodge Hotel (click to enlarge)
The Merpati flight from Bali to Dili took around 2.5 hours and there were lots of spare seats at the back so we were able to spread out, read, sleep or look out of the window as we flew down the Lesser Sunda Islands and came in to Dili, approaching from the northwest with Ataúro Island on the port side and the wide Comoro River valley off starboard.
Upon arrival the team, our largest to date with 12 members from overseas, was met by our Timorese team members, the Jets, but only Zito and Laca this time as Luis had found employment and Benny was in Sydney working on his MSc.
President Nicolau Lobato International Airport, Dili
named after the East Timorese president and war hero,
shot and killed by Indonesian forces on Dec 31st 1978
click to enlarge images
We drove to the Timor Lodge Hotel, a short 5 minute journey from the airport. The TLH is our regular expedition base where we prepare, pack, rest and store our equipment between phases.
As on previous phases, we planned to hire two Toyota Troop Carriers aka "troopies", from Rentló but only one troopie was available when we arrived and I had to make due with a Hilux, not the best vehicle for Timor-Leste's famous "district" roads. As we were a bigger team than on any previous phase we needed more accommodation at TLH. We took five chalets, one for the leaders (Hinrich and myself) where we would also store kit and set up the lab and the photo studio, two for the five girls and two for the five guys, and as usual Zito and Laca would stay at their homes in Dili.
Entering Timor Lodge Hotel, Rentló office on the left, TLH office on the right - how convenient!
Hinrich's Troopie and Mark's Hilux outside the chalets at Timor Lodge Hotel
For a description and general views around the Timor Lodge Hotel see Phase III.
After settling in we took a drive into Dili to introduce our newest team members to some of the sights of Timor-Leste's capital, the Cristo Rei statue, the debating crocodile statue, the warnings about crocodiles on the beach and the newest statue, featuring a clock and .... a crocodile. Lafa'ek, the saltwater crocodile is an imporant part of Timorese creation myth. And out in the bay was our main field location for Phase VI - Ataúro Island, albeit across a very windy and choppy sea.
Around Dili - click to enlarge images
Ataúro Island in the distance,
the primary destination for Phase VI
Cristo Rei statue, modelled on the
larger Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro
Debating crocodile statue
Crocodile attack warning sign,
yes it is a reality here
The new Croc Clock
In the evening Zito and Laca arrived and we had a briefing from Hinrich about the events over the next couple of days. After the meeting I surprised him with a caricature I had commissioned by a British artist called Andy Meanock <email@example.com> who had carried out commissions for me before. The artwork illustrates Hinrich's German origins with some of the reptiles we had encountered in Timor in the previous phases (island pitviper, reticulated python, tokay gecko, river frog, crocodile and a flying lizard wearing a flying helmet) as well as some of the team from Phase V (Caitlin, Marissa, David, Naveen, Laca, Luis and Zito), oh and the rooster from Phase IV.
I think he liked it !
Hinrich's caricature - he loved it! (click image to enlarge )
After dinner Hinrich and I retired to sort kit and plan fieldwork, while Caitlin and some of the boys set off herping in the TLH compound. Several of the girls planned to use the famous TLH pool but for some strange reason they ended up going herping too. As I finally fell asleep I could still hear the excited cries of success as they caught a gecko or a frog outside, ah! the halcyon days of youth when you didn't need sleep!
In the morning we learned that they had collected Common house gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus), Roti house gecko (H. cf. tenkatei), Asian black-spined toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus), Striped tree frog (Polypedates cf. leucomystax), and Rice-paddy frog (Fejervarya sp.).
Common house gecko,
Roti house gecko,
Hemidactylus cf. tenkatei
Asian black-spined toad,
Duttaphrynus melanostictus left: male, right: 110mm female
Polypedates cf. leucomystax.
By herps were not the only critters we found around the rooms!
TLH was our base for three days and four nights, before we left for Ataúro Island and while we made day trips out to locations an hour or two from Dili such as the Metinaro mangrove swamp and Lake Be Matin.
The day before we left for Ataúro Island, the largest of Timor-Leste's two offshore territories and the main target location for Phase VI of the herpetological survey, we concentrated on getting the mainland specimens prepped, documented and photographed. This included a couple of snakes caught around the TLH accommodation, a juvenile Island wolfsnake (Lycodon capucinus) captured by the students near their chalets two nights earlier, and a tiny Brahminy blindsnake (Ramphotyphlops braminus) found on the floor in the entrance to my room. I was able to photograph this tiny snake, no thicker than the lead of a pencil, using a Canon MP-E65mm macro lens and obtained detailed photographs of its head scalation and the photosensitive eye-spots, which are located under translucent scales.
We also had to sort and prepare all our equipment for a week of intensive fieldwork, which included an animated discussion about the best design of a trap for Ataúro monitor lizards (Varanus sp.) and a visit to the hardware store to sort out the necessary equipment. Perhaps most importantly, our second Troopie needed fitting with a roof-rack. Up until today we had only one of the two Toyota Troop Carriers we usually use in Timor-Leste, so I had been driving a Hilux. Rentló had located a second Troopie and a roof rack but unfortunately no brackets to attach it were available. With considerable ingenuity, workshop manager Russell's boys manufactured six brackets and fitted the roof rack by the end of the day so we were able to load our heavier boxes in readiness for an early start in the morning.