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


The plan was to get to Kuala Lumpur airport, catch the 3-hour Malaysia Airlines flight to Bali, check into the Best Western Kuta Beach hotel, do a jungle walk followed by a night walk, dinner, then relax.

Except it did not quite work that way. The lifts (elevators) in the Radius International all decided to malfunction at the same time, either they stopped working altogether or they developed a fault which caused them to stop at every floor except seemingly Floor 10 where we stood for 35 minutes with our bags trying to get down to the lobby. Eventually we gave up and carried all our luggage down twelve floors (yes the 10th floor is not actually the tenth floor) to catch our transfer bus for the hour long drive to the airport. We made the flight, we were the last ones to board the plane!

Arriving in bustling Bali is always fun, the Visa on Arrival system is a test of anybody's patience and when we had circumvented that problem by paying for a fast-track we arrived outside to find our pre-booked hotel transfer had not been registered by the hotel. Three taxis and 40 minutes later we arrived at the hotel to learn none of the pre-booked vehicles were actually booked so the jungle trek and the evening trek were off the menu. Not that anyone really minded, we have an early start in the morning so the most anybody wanted to do was take a dip in the roof-top pool and relax after an unnecessarily stressful day.

8/9th of the team bonding in the pool
(l-r) Kevin, Jay, Claudia, Hinrich, Julia, Franziska, Sven and Britta


We have also visited Bali on previous occasions enroute Timor-Leste: ie. Phase VI

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) was a 19th Century contemporary of Charles Darwin, a naturalist who conducted fieldwork in South America and what was then the Dutch East Indies, modern day Indonesia. He was also the man who nudged Darwin into making his Theory of Evolution public - without Wallace we may never have heard of Darwin and evolution through natural selection, but that is another story.

It was while he was on his second quest, an eight-year collecting and observing expedition down the length of the Malay Archipelago, that he noticed a change in the fauna as he moved from west to east (birds and butterflies mostly but it applies to other organisms too). This recognition of different faunas was most apparent to Wallace as he made the short (35 km) sea journey from Bali to the neighbouring island of Lombok, the next island in the Lesser Sunda chain, where suddenly Asian birds were replaced by Australasian birds. This puzzled Wallace greatly since he had only travelled a short distance, far shorter than the gaps between the ornithologically similar islands of Borneo, Sumatra, Java, and Bali. Although he may not have known it at the time the change in the fauna was the result not of a horizontal distance but of a vertical distance: the depth of the sea-bed.

Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali lie on a shallow-water shelf, the Sunda Shelf, that links them to the Southeast Asian mainland. At times of lowered sea levels (which occurred for more than 40,000 years in the last two million due to ice ages binding water in glaciers) has permitted considerable migration of species and biological exchange. A similar shelf, the Sahul Shelf, links Australia and New Guinea and accounts for the similarities in their faunas. But in between are numerous islands that either lie on small shelves of their own or rise up from the depths as oceanic mountains and volcanoes. Sulawesi (formerly Celebes) is isolated from Borneo and New Guinea in this way, and Lombok and the other islands of the Lesser Sundas are separated from Bali by a narrow but deep marine trench. Sulawesi and the Lesser Sunda and neighbouring Maluku (Moluccan) Islands are neither Asian nor Australasian, they belong to their own zoogeographic region that is separated from Bali and the rest of the Sunda region by Wallace's Line, an invsible line of zoogeographic differentiation defined by Wallace in 1859. Today this small region is named Wallacea in honour of the man who first recognised their uniqueness and who became known as the "Father of Biogeography". These islands contain elements of the Asian and Australasian faunas but also their own endemic species, found nowhere else.

Bali and Lombok are only 35 km apart but the deep water trench between them effectively places them
on opposite of the invisible but extremely important Wallace's Line

We had planned to do a jungle trek for reptiles and amphibians on Bali but the lateness of our arrival and the transportation issues we experienced upon arrival meant this could not be accomplished. This did not matter, Bali is part of the Sunda region of Southeast Asia with many similarities to the Malaysian Peninsula where we had already done one jungle trek. Next we flew to Lombok on the other side of Wallace's Line, following Alfred Russel Wallace, albeit using the more modern means of flight to travel between the two islands.

Readers interested in Wallace's Line and Island Biogeography are directed to the following titles:
Wallace, Alfred Russel 1869 The Malay Archipelago
MacArthur, Robert H. & Edward O. Wilson 1967 The Theory of Island Biogeography
Quammen, David 1996 The Song of the Dodo (this last is a very readable account for non-scientists)