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


I caught my Emirates flight from Birmingham, as usual, the major part of the team coming from the United States. However, this time I met up with budding German herpetologist Sven Mecke in Dubai. He was flying in from Frankfurt to join the team as a specialist in the skink genera Sphenomorphus and Eremiascincus.

We then caught the same flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and a taxi to the hotel to link up with the Californian members of the team from Victor Valley College: project leader Hinrich Kaiser, research assistant Caitlin Sanchez, who participated in all 5 previous phases; Scott Heacox (4), David Taylor (3), and six new students (Zach Brown, Melissa Carrillo, Stephanie Hughes, Aaren Marsh, Gloria Morales, and Justin Rader) - this was to be a big team.

The American part of the team had arrived some hours before us and been out visiting two key sights of KL, the Thean Hon Temple and the Petronas Towers.

After a meet and greet and a briefing, at which our Herp Cards, an identification and species recording technique for use in Timorese villages, was unveiled, we had planned to visit a local restaurant but monsoon rains put paid to that and we ate in the hotel restaurant before turning in - a full day was planned for the morrow.

First port of call was the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) where we were guided by Mr. Ang, an affable soil scientist. The first herp was an Indo-Malaysian water monitor (Varanus salvator) watching us from a pool outside the office - as we moved off, it climbed out. At FRIM we went on a jungle walk, as professional biologists with good eyes for spotting nature, and then up onto the aerial walkway, funded by Germany but built by British engineers, Hinrich!!

Our excellent guide Ang
introduces zoologists to botany
Indo-Malay water monitor,
Varanus salvator
The International Team in a tree buttress:
back (l-r): Hinrich Kaiser, David Taylor, middle: Sven Mecke, Scott Heacox, Gloria Morales, Melissa Carrillo, Caitlin Sanchez, Mark O'Shea,
front: Zach Brown, Justin Rader, Aaren Marsh, Stephanie Hughes.


With Ang as our guide we did a jungle trek, but as biologists with keen eyes and enquiring minds rather than tourists. Since our main emphasis is on Timor-Leste some of the millipedes, bees, spiders, bugs and flatworms found in Malaysia have still to be identified to genus and species.

Non-stinging or sweat bees
Larvae mimicking a flower head
Snake millipede
Flat millipede
Pill millipede
Hammerhead flatworm
Diversibipalium sp.


We also recorded a number of lizards as we walked the road to the aerial walkway including the Sun skink (Eutropis multifasciata), Spotted forest skink (Sphenomorphus scotophilus) and a possible sighting of the Striped tree skink (Lipinia vittigera), several Monarch geckos (Gekko monarchus) and an Earless dragon (Aphaniotis fusca) with a light-blue mouth.


The FRIM road to the aerial walkway,
great lizard habitat
Earless dragon,
Aphaniotis fusca
Sun skink,
Eutropis multifasciata
Spotted forest skink,
Sphenomorphus scotophilus
Justin and Scott on the aerial walkway Hinrich gazes down from one of the spans


After FRIM we visited the Batu Caves, a huge cavern devoted to Hinduism with a giant golden statue of Lord Murugan in the entrance and 272 steps leading to the main chambers of the literally cavernous temple.

There were numerous statues and shrines to lesser deities and large numbers of Hindu believers trying to carry out their devotions in the presence of hundreds of curious tourists. There were also large numbers of kleptomanic long-tailed macaque monkeys who clearly had the ability to pose for photographs and meanwhile size up the photographer for anything that can be easily stolen. How these monkeys obtained drinks from screw-top bottles without removing the cap was an education.


The giant golden statue of Lord Murugan,
next to the 272 steps

Shrines inside the main cavern
Hindu devotees gather for a ceremony
while kleptomanic monkeys eye up possible 'marks' with the skill of a street gang

We then returned to our hotel to prepare for the flight to Bali the next morning.