20 March 2013
My name is Harry and I am a student from Cardiff University (UK) on a research placement with Fauna Forever. Now, I don’t really know who this is for or who will be reading this and what you’re expecting, but here for your delight is Day 40 of my 9-month stay with Fauna Forever in the Peruvian Amazon. It's actually the 14th of November 2012. I was always going to be on the herpetology team, or the herpies as THEY (the bird team) call us, but this day sealed it for me.
What boy doesn’t love snakes? By Day 40, I was calling things by their Latin names and generally feeling pretty pleased with myself when it came to slithering vertebrates. For this particular research visit to the Amazon Research and Conservation Center (ARCC, one of the many favourite lodge sites monitored by Fauna Forever), Brian Crnobrna, my Lord, mentor and general know-all of jungle life was being treated for Leishmaniasis leaving me coordinatorless and beyond inconsolable for a couple of weeks. In his place, I had been given two others: Irbin, a very knowledgeable Peruvian chap, and Patrick Campbell, a Florida-born herp enthusiast who proved vital in translating the knowledge expressed by the mighty Irbin.
It was a day like any other, which started off with two pancakes covered in jam, butter and sugar (soo delicious!). A rainy morning had given us all reason enough to mope around and play Settlers of Catan, a favourite board game for rainy days in the jungle, which has become the point of the day which we try and arrange ourselves around. Matt (a fellow Cardiff Uni student) won. Never a good sign. After the rain had stopped we headed out with all our herp gear.
We checked various pitfall traps first. Now, if you know what pitfall traps are, you probably have a highly inaccurate idea of what I’m talking about. These pitfall traps were largely the art of my insanity. No half coke bottles stuffed in the ground (like the insect team studying dung-beetles). These were 100-litre monster bins connected by a 30-metre drift fence designed to force any snake, mouse, lizard, frog, opossum, scorpion, tarantula (and unwary student intern?) into these huge buckets. Without Brian, I felt myself the natural candidate for leader: strong, dashingly handsome, and an inexhaustible appetite for outdoor adventure, unless a game of Catan was on the cards.
I led the team at a stonking pace, stopping for nothing, no bird, monkey, treefall, jaguar could have swayed my quite frankly Godly pace. Until that is, a truly immense snake (by my British standards) went rocketing off in front of me. Described as “a humongous killer nightmare” by National Geographic, I think it’s safe to say I am a macho macho man. After a high pitched screech of expletives and a glance back to my superiorly snake-literate comrades we took flight after the critter. After losing it a number of times, Pat overtook me and grabbed its tail just before my mitt got hold of its midsection. After some pretty chuffed looks at each other, and ascertaining that it was in fact a non-venomous Yellow-tailed cribo (Drymarchon corais), I ventured to ask if it was likely to bite. I found it so cute and cuddly despite the ominous hissing noise it was making. After a swift assurance from Pat-who was to his credit from Florida and used to its cousin, the Indigo snake-that they’re renowned for their gentle behaviour, the devil decided to make him look a fool and sink all of its many teeth into my arm. It wasn’t painful, I am after all a macho macho man. There was a lot of blood, but no pain, probably due to the sheer excitement of having caught such an incredible creature and having it choose me as opposed to my two (one would have thought) equally appetising colleagues to attach to in such a seemingly permanent way. The look between Pat and Irbin couldn’t have been described as promising, and after some Spanish, which I later found out was Irbin instructing Pat to “Help him” (Me) we started prising its jaws from my arm.
Eventually, after much blood and a perfect tooth for tooth imprint on my arm, we had it in a bag and marched triumphantly back to camp to process it quickly. Upon returning we found out that Drymarchon corais is not only a remarkably common snake but famously aggressive! The pain finally came, the alcohol and iodine stung like mad, but with a length of 2.67m and a new Cribo record for Brian's herp database, I wasn’t disgruntled and have gone on to catch many more! Though non-venomous, the musk of a Cribo is the most potent substance my smell receptors had ever come into contact with. Venom would probably be preferable to the stench which has haunted my life and my dreams ever since!
The feeling of rushing through the jungle in pursuit of any snake, let alone such a rapid and massive specimen is a truly indescribable experience, and any kid who watched that fool, Steve Irwin, as I did, and looked up to him should get their butt out here to the Peruvian Amazon and try the real thing. It’s life-changing!