A forest full of dragons

The eye staring back at me was large and round and cold with a black pupil set into a flame-red iris that burned even in the warm tropical sunlight. It looked more like a precious stone than anything organic. It was set in a dull gray scaly skin that was sandpaper-rough to the touch. Read more…

Another Acanthosaura

I would have missed it had my Katu guide not stopped me on the trail and said thằn lằn! I looked for a lizard but didn’t see anything in the tangle of twigs and leaves where he was pointing. But I was looking for a small lizard—not the forearm-length gargoyle that was staring coldly back at me. Read more…

Grisly encounter

As I wandered around our campsite looking for firewood I kept my eyes peeled to the ground. I was moving through dense green low-lying vegetation: the perfect place to find snakes. And to my delight—I did. In fact, not only did I come across a brilliant emerald pit viper, one of the most beautiful snakes in the Annamites, but I had chanced upon it in the act of feeding. Read more…

Keeled box turtle

It is late afternoon. We are tired, hot, and sweaty. All we want to do is to get back to camp and rest—but the route is not easy. To get there we have to machete our way through dense secondary growth. Every step is a struggle. I am watching the ground for snakes when I see an extraordinary sight: a small turtle slow-scuttling across our path. It’s rare to see turtles in the forest. Indeed, turtles are one of the most endangered taxon in all Southeast Asia. Instantly my fatigue melts away. As I pick up the turtle and snap photos Thien asks me why I am so happy. I’m beaming, though I hadn’t noticed it. I’m happy because this is a unique find. It is another one of the jewels that the forest will offer if you spend enough time exploring its mysteries. A herpetologist I know has identified it as the keeled box turtle (Cuora mouhoutii). Read more…

Forest dragon

We are stumbling through dense jungle vegetation trying to get back to camp before daylight fades. I keep my eyes peeled to the ground—on the lookout for both leeches and snakes. Then I look up and see the most amazing creature: A real life dragon. OK, OK, so what if it’s squirrel-sized? This spiky iguana-like lizard has the wicked appearance of a Medieval monster. I especially love the double horns on the head and the open-throat threat display. And good thing it’s not the size of the legendary beasts. Otherwise it might give St. George a run for his money. Read more…

Wattle-necked softshell turtle

The turtle that our team found in Pu Mat has been identified as a wattle-necked softshell turtle (Palea steindachneri).  It is the only member of the Palea genus. Because it has a restricted geographic range and is under considerable pressure from the wildlife trade it is listed as endangered by the IUCN. Softshell turtles in Vietnam are considered a culinary delicacy and this species is no exception. Tanks filled with softshell turtles are common in more upscale restaurants in Vietnam. Read more…