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Date night with herptiles

The Star Online logo The Star Online 5/7/2018 By C.Y. LEE
a person wearing a hat: Our eyes were constantly scanning for eyeshine among the flora to give us an indication that we had a potentially exciting find. — Photos courtesy of Steven Wong © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad Our eyes were constantly scanning for eyeshine among the flora to give us an indication that we had a potentially exciting find. — Photos courtesy of Steven Wong

IT WAS barely a few minutes past nightfall when I started my third herping adventure, this time at Taman Rimba Kiara in Taman Tun Dr Ismail.

Growing up, I always knew this place as a “jungle” although I had never visited it.

As visitors started heading home after their evening exercise, I pictured many of the park’s “permanent residents” either settling down for the night (like the birds) or getting ready for some after-dark action (like the snakes and frogs).

Not more than 30 paces past the guardhouse at the park’s entrance, our guide, Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Selangor branch herpetofauna lead coordinator Steven Wong, called for our attention to examine an Oriental Vine Snake that was hanging out on the fencing.

It did not take our group of four long to draw the attention of passers-by, who were probably wondering what three men with LED headlights could be doing at the edge of a drain.

Pretty quickly, we were surroun-ded by a dozen or so curious strangers.

a frog sitting on the ground: This Spotted Litter Frog (Leptobrachium Hendricksoni) is a looker too, especially with those red eyes. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad This Spotted Litter Frog (Leptobrachium Hendricksoni) is a looker too, especially with those red eyes.
This Spotted Litter Frog (Leptobrachium Hendricksoni) is a looker too, especially with those red eyes.

“Yes, that is quite typical,” said Wong about the on-lookers.

“Sometimes, I take the opportunity to tell them a little about the snakes in Rimba Kiara and reassure them that most of these reptiles are not dangerous,” he said, informing us that this was his seventh herping outing at the park this year.

Such is his passion for educating people on the importance of keeping the balance of an ecosystem, even one as “urban” as Rimba Kiara.

It is this concern for the environment that led Wong to quit his previous job to become a full-time nature guide.

a lizard on a branch: The Garden Fence Lizard (Calotes versicolor) may be a relatively common lizard, but it has become one of my favourites to look out for on herping trips. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad The Garden Fence Lizard (Calotes versicolor) may be a relatively common lizard, but it has become one of my favourites to look out for on herping trips.
The Garden Fence Lizard (Calotes versicolor) may be a relatively common lizard, but it has become one of my favourites to look out for on herping trips.

“I feel that I can educate people more about nature as a guide than an environmental consultant, as I would be speaking to them directly about these issues and showing them the wonderful creatures in our forests.”

As everyone whipped out their cameras to share their “find” on social media, Wong continued dishing out factoids on the Oriental Vine Snake before placing it back where we found it. The group then moved along.

Naturally, after our first encounter, I had high hopes that the ensuing hike would make this my best night out herping yet, especially given the afternoon shower that day which lay the land with moisture. And yes, the permanent residents do like it when things get a little wet.

a close up of a snake: This Oriental Vine Snake (Ahaetulla Prasina), found not far from the entrance, was a cool customer despite being surrounded by almost a dozen on-lookers. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad This Oriental Vine Snake (Ahaetulla Prasina), found not far from the entrance, was a cool customer despite being surrounded by almost a dozen on-lookers.
This Oriental Vine Snake (Ahaetulla Prasina), found not far from the entrance, was a cool customer despite being surrounded by almost a dozen on-lookers.

Not so much for us though, as the path we took consisted mostly of slippery and muddy trails. Regardless, the conditions were just right and we remained hopeful.

As the journey continued, we found our tempo, stopping only when we saw something “more than just” the fascinating insects, bugs and moths.

At one point, we even came across fireflies, which never gets old for me.

After our initial luck with the first, we only spotted our second snake, the Haas‘s Bronzeback (Dendrelaphis haasii) after three hours. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad After our initial luck with the first, we only spotted our second snake, the Haas‘s Bronzeback (Dendrelaphis haasii) after three hours.
After our initial luck with the first, we only spotted our second snake, the Haas‘s Bronzeback (Dendrelaphis haasii) after three hours.

Along our 5km trail, we encoun-tered at least six species of frogs, three kinds of lizards, three types of non-venomous snakes and who-knows-how-many different spiders.

That’s the great thing about herping – you always get more than what you came for.

At our slow and steady pace, the journey took just under four hours to complete and while my expectations were high at the start, this visit was certainly a good lesson in patience because we do not get to choose what we encounter.

a green frog: We found this White Lipped Frog (Chalcorana Labialis) perched on a rock covered with moss. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad We found this White Lipped Frog (Chalcorana Labialis) perched on a rock covered with moss.
We found this White Lipped Frog (Chalcorana Labialis) perched on a rock covered with moss.

That in itself left me wondering whether there would come a day when we would hardly be able to spot any of these herptiles in parks like Rimba Kiara.

It did not help that after spending almost four hours in Rimba Kiara, it only took me a short drive to be “teleported” from an urban jungle to a concrete jungle.

Compared to my previous herping adventure at Sungai Lalang in Selangor, Rimba Kiara is far more “developed” with its paved roads, street lights and more hiking trails than some of the state parks.

The park, however, has its place with the surrounding ecosystem. The former rubber estate has matured into a secondary forest and thankfully, even for an experienced herper like Wong, Rimba Kiara can offer a rewarding night out.

a pile of wood: This peculiar-looking creature is the Lampyridae Firefly, which has a bioluminescent lower abdomen not visible from this angle. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad This peculiar-looking creature is the Lampyridae Firefly, which has a bioluminescent lower abdomen not visible from this angle.
This peculiar-looking creature is the Lampyridae Firefly, which has a bioluminescent lower abdomen not visible from this angle.

He was surprised to discover that species normally found in forests far more dense could also be found here.

Perhaps these species have always been here, he explained, but now the shrinking forest as a result of development has pushed them out of the foliage and closer to the paved roads, making it easier to find them.

“Make your voices heard about development in Bukit Kiara. Collaborate with or join Friends of Bukit Kiara in their fight against development and for the removal of the fine mesh fence,” Wong advised us.

a spider on a leaf: This Cane Spider (Heteropoda Venatoria), also known as the Huntsman Spider, is a particularly plump specimen. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad This Cane Spider (Heteropoda Venatoria), also known as the Huntsman Spider, is a particularly plump specimen.
This Cane Spider (Heteropoda Venatoria), also known as the Huntsman Spider, is a particularly plump specimen.

He also urged the public not to report snake sightings to the authorities that would result in them being removed.

“This park is a forest after all and it is home to snakes and other fauna. The removal of these creatures will cause them unnecessary stress and take away emergency personnel who could be on standby for more urgent emergencies,” he said.

I paid a fee to experience Rimba Kiara with Wong and I would have no qualms about paying again to revisit this park in hopes of getting an even better herping experience.

It is a fair price to pay, especially when you consider the steep registration fees for many fun runs these days.

For those interested in experiencing herping, the MNS strives to organise trips once a month at one of the several locations in the Klang Valley.

For details, visit fb.com/groups/herpgroup.

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