TIMOR-LESTE 2013

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

Com, Lautém District

Our first day out of Com Beach Resort we planned to drive a new road north of Com to an area of untouched forest, except things did not go quite according to plan. We hit a patch of deep mud and subsidence on an inclined road which required that we put the Troopies into Low4. This also entails getting out to lock the wheel hubs. Hinrich went first and sailed through the obstruction without incident. I followed on exactly the same route, well away from the left of the road which subsided into a gorge. My Troopie got stuck, even with Low4 with locking wheel hubs on LOCK, but the wheels spun and it was all I could do to reverse back out, it was as if I were still in two-wheel drive (in fact I think we were, even though the indicator on the dash indicated otherwise and the hubs were locked). I unloaded all my passengers to lighten the Troopie and tried again, taking a run at it, as much as you could with Low4. Again I bogged and this time it would not reverse out, every effort to go forwards or backwards resulting in the Troopie sliding closer to the drop-off until it was on the very edge. Anymore of this and it was going over, so I decided to abandon the Troopie and contact Rentló and have them recover the vehicle intact, and hopefully bring a replacement since we could not function in Lautém without reliable four-wheel drive. We have driven much worse roads than this in southern Timor and even such rain-s0dden mud should not have proven such an obstacle.

Bogged!

Dèja vu! We had problems with a Troopie that failed on us last time we came to Lautém, the switch to the reserve full tank (Troopies have two) did not operate so we ran out of fuel with a full but inaccessible tank still on board.

So it was all aboard Hinrich's Troopie and back to Com Beach Resort, stopping to photograph a sea turtle conservation sign (sadly spoiled by careless typos).

Sea turtle conservation sign sadly spoiled by numerous typos - click on the image to view

Back at base we set out to work locally until Rentló arrived from Dili. I got on with specimen photography while Sven and the students did some specimen prepping and then he took the students herping in a forest 20 minutes walk from Com.

Room 103 is the photographic studio Room 102 is the prep lab

Hinrich had a lie down. He had been feeling unwell for several days but was now feeling worse, and out here is no place to get really sick with the nearest hospital in Dili. As the day wore on Hinrich got worse but he figured he could still beat whatever was ailing him if he rested up for the day. His legs were swollen and covered in what at first glance looked like bites. Since they had appeared after he had been in the Metinaro mangrove swamp and he had began to feel ill the following day we wondered if he was sensitive to something in the swamp mud. Yet nobody else was affected in any way so it was curious.

The other possibility was Dengue fever, a virulent virus carried by the large day-active tiger mosquitoes (Aedes). Sven, who had contracted Dengue on a previous visit to Timor, thought this might be the diagnosis. He said the marks on his legs looked like the rash he had on his arms when he fell sick, a symptom we subsequently discovered was known as 'petechial haemorrhage', but without internet access or a doctor, way out here in Lautém District, we could do little more than pontificate - something in the mud, dengue, something else, what was it? Hinrich decided to rest up and try to beat it whatever it was.

He's got legs, and he knows how to use them!
Hinrich's legs with petechial haemorrhages

Déja vu again! Last time at Com it was me who got sick, being hit in the face and mouth by a cloud of bat urine as I walked through the Raça caves looking for geckos and skinks. It took me five-days to become really ill but eventually I was running an extremely high temperature and was confined to my bed for a couple of days while I waited for it to subside. Most likely it was Weil's Disease (Leptospirosis) which is common in bats and rodents, another unpleasant bug (a bacterium this time, not a virus) but one that is susceptible to Doxycycline, the antibiotic I was already taking as malarial prophylaxis.

Expeditions are by their very nature adventurous and for those who make expeditions to the tropics, tropical diseases are a constant threat. I have had Malaria six times since 1986 and Onchocercasis (river blindness) in 1989, plus other things I never got diagnosed. Expeditions are not for the faint-hearted.

Sven's group returned with specimens of Bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus sp.) and Four-fingered skink (Carlia sp.) from the forest west of Com.

Bent-toed gecko
Cyrtodactylus sp.
Four-fingered skink
Carlia sp.

The Rentló guys arrived around 18:00 and brought another Troopie which they also used to recover the bogged vehicle. They discovered that, as suspected, the four-wheel drive was not working and it took some time to recover the Troopie, even though the sun of the afternoon had dried the mud considerably since the morning. Amid much excitement from local villagers the Troopie almost slid over the edge! They loaded the vehicle onto their low-loader to take back to Dili and left me the replacement.

Rentló arrive with a replacement Troopie but recovering mine took some time

It was now dark so we gathered in the restaurant area of the Com Beach Resort and discussed plans for the next few days while the students went to catch geckos, drawn by the haunting call of the aggressive and voracious Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko). They also rounded up some Common house geckos (Hemidactylus frenatus) and Roti Island house geckos (Hemidactylus tenkatei).

A great deal would depend on how Hinrich felt in the morning.

Restaurant area of the Com Beach Resort at night
Common house gecko
Hemidactylus frenatus.
Roti Island house gecko
Hemidactylus tenkatei
Tokay gecko
Gekko gecko

 

On our final night at Com we captured a Flat-tailed gecko (Hemidactylus platyurus) on the gatepost to the accomodation. This gecko demonstrated caudal autotomy when I came to photograph it, voluntarily breaking off its tail to evade capture.

Flat-tailed house gecko
Hemidactylus platyurus
demonstrating voluntary caudal autotomy