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…

Short but sweet

Exhausted, sweating, lungs-burning we crashed at a semi-flat area beside the stream. This was as good a place as any to make camp. The forest here was excellent: tall trees shaded the area creating a dappled play of light and shadow. I was glad to be back into the jungle. At the same time I was dismayed that we had so little time. I tried not to let this get me down. As the others began making camp I wandered around the area looking for firewood—and the odd leech. Read more…

Leopard cat

It is late December 2012. Instead of spending the Christmas break in my hometown I am thousands of miles away in the remote jungles of Vietnam. I have been invited here by WWF to help with biodiversity surveys in the Hue Saola Nature Reserve. As I climb with my guide through molasses-thick jungle vegetation, I think back to what I have given up to undertake this experience: warmth, family, friends have been traded for punishing field conditions. But I was also in a naturalist’s paradise. And I knew that if you spend enough time in the jungle you can be rewarded with sights that, to a true biologist, are priceless. Then it happened: two tawny blurs streaked across the riverbed and up the side of a low hill. Read more…

Return

We traveled back to Hue through torrential rains. In places the narrow mountain road had become almost completely washed out. Our driver deftly maneuvered our jeep along precipitous paths. Several hours later we were back in Hue. After two days the rain slackened. Thien came to me early one day in the office and said that we could try to go back into the forest. We had only had one week left on our government permit to survey the area and there was a good chance that we would be forced to turn back early again because of monsoon rains—but he would support me if we wanted to give it a try. I did. Despite the still dangerous flooding and the mercurial monsoon weather I felt like we needed to attempt to finish the expedition. 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…