Further adventures with snakes and filming Deadly 60 in Bali

June 13, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

This is a long overdue follow-up to my earlier post about Bali's snakes and herping in Bali.

During my two years in Bali I built up a good relationship with the folks over at Bali Reptile Rescue (BRR). Through a combination of this relationship, my own research and personal field experience, I was able to develop a decent working knowledge of the snakes of Bali. Eventually I gained enough confidence to start lending my hand to rescues, and this post is intended as a brief account of these experiences. Please note that as I was mainly focused on the rescues, most of these encounters went un-photographed - you'll just have to believe me!

My first rescue was of a reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus) which had been reported in a tall tree outside someone's property. The call from BRR's Rani came in the early hours of the morning. We arrived to find a large crowd gathered around the base of the tree, with a lot of hysterical shouting and flailing of long bamboo canes. About 20 minutes after our arrival, as we deliberated over how to safely retrieve the python, it decided that it had had enough and started making its way down towards the ground of its own volition. The huge (2-3m) long snake came down the tree right next to me so I was in a good position to take hold and secure it, ready for Rani to bag it up to be released far from people. I managed to take hold of the snake without any real fuss and that's about all I have to report. As my first rescue, I couldn't believe how smoothly it went!

The following weeks saw me move on to my first venomous snake rescue - a Javan spitting cobra (Naja sputatrix) that was lurking in an expat's villa in Sanur. Spitting cobras are venomous so I was rather more wary this time, but after some well-coordinated teamwork with the villa residents, I was able to safely retrieve it without injury to myself or the snake. The rescue operation involved cutting off its possible escape routes and potential new hiding places, donning appropriate safety gear (in this case a diving mask!), and then me performing a swift 'hook and box' maneuver. Copious amounts of gaffer tape and a few air holes secured its temporary box home while it awaited release.

Another python rescue came next and this one, unfortunately, did not go smoothly. The snake was in another expat's villa, and the residents were worried that it had eaten their pet kitten. When I eventually found the snake, it was coiled up about 8 feet high in a tree on the edge of their property. I could just about reach it (I am 6'4" tall) but the snake was in a really awkward position, securely coiled around several branches. Getting it out of the tree was quite a wrestling match! Naturally it didn't like being handled and I struggled to manage the rescue with the same slickness that I had managed previously. I eventually managed to wrangle it down, however at one point it managed to get the better of me and chomped down on the back of my left hand. Detaching it was really hard - pythons have lots of small, sharp teeth and highly flexible jaws, so once I finally manage to free my hand I was left with a messy wound which took considerable time to heal. To make things worse, the residents found their kitten, dead, the next morning (killed but not eaten). The python was released unharmed.

I learned my lesson after that, and a subsequent python rescue a few weeks later went much more smoothly. It had taken up residence in a gap between some roofing panels in a traditional Balinese house. I was able  to climb up to it using a ladder and retrieved it without any dramas. I took my camera this time so (for the first time) I was able to photograph this beautiful (and huge!) individual following its release. Having been fairly docile before, by this point it was (understandably) pretty grumpy so I didn't bother it too much:

Reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus)Reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus)

Subsequent rescues were, thankfully, largely uneventful - such as this one of an Asian vine snake (Ahaetulla prasina) which I rescued from a friend's garden:

Me and an Asian vine snake (Ahaeulla prasina)Me and an Asian vine snake (Ahaeulla prasina)

Unfortunately, their cat had got to it before I arrived and it was injured (you can see the kink in its body about halfway down) so I'm not sure what its survival chances would have been like following release.

The same friend and colleague also called me back a few weeks later to retrieve this little Oriental wolf snake (Lycodon capucinus) from his garden:

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A few more local rescues followed, however there is little extra to report - by this point I had got the hang of it and it became a bit more routine!

The real highlight of my herpetological adventures in Bali came late last year when I got the opportunity to help BRR film some sequences for the children's BBC wildlife programme 'Deadly 60' with Steve Backshall.

The filming window was very brief (just one night and one day) and it was the final part of the filming team's trip to SE Asia. They came to the main island of Bali after spending time in Borneo and Nusa Penida, one of the smaller islands off the coast of Bali. The species of interest for them for the first night was the yellow-lipped sea krait (Laticauda colubrina). This is an example of the species that I photographed a few nights before the filming:

Yellow-lipped sea krait (Laticauda colubrina)Yellow-lipped sea krait (Laticauda colubrina)

A good location for finding this species was a particular stretch of beach very close to where I lived. Overall, the night's filming went really smoothly and it only took a little bit of searching to find a suitable snake. Gung Adi and I found a male krait early on but it slipped away into the rocks quite quickly (taking with it our chance for TV limelight!). Anyway, the males are quite small so it probably wouldn't have made for great TV! After about half an hour of scouring the beach, Agus found a large female and he, Steve and the team managed to film the sequence that they wanted. The team were delighted - apparently it's rarely that easy! The whole thing only took about an hour in total. This sequence subsequently became part of the main 'Bali' episode, along with some other sequences they had shot elsewhere on the island.

Here's a 'behind the scenes' phone photo of Steve and Agus with the sea krait:

Filming sea kraits in Bali with Agus, Steve Backshall and the BBC Deadly 60 teamFilming sea kraits in Bali with Agus, Steve Backshall and the BBC Deadly 60 team

Here's one of me and Steve:

Me and Steve BackshallMe and Steve Backshall

The next day was focused on the work of BRR and, in particular, their work with rescuing and releasing king cobras. These sequences didn't feature in the main Bali episode but instead were used in the final 'Unseen' episode, from about 17minutes onwards. Most of the sequence about king cobras was shot at BRR's main base of operations but during the filming, there were also two rescue calls - adding something to the drama of it all. One of these calls was about a reticulated python spotted outside someone's property. This callout features heavily in the episode, and to cut a long story short it was a tricky one*! I didn't have much of a role on this day (I'll just say I was 'in support'!), but I can be spotted by eagle-eyed viewers in a couple of panning shots...

Here's a 'behind the scenes' phone photo from the filming at the rescue centre:

Filming king cobras in Bali with Ray, Agus Steve Backshall and the BBC Deadly 60 teamFilming king cobras in Bali with Ray, Agus Steve Backshall and the BBC Deadly 60 team

For UK viewers, at the point of writing the episodes can be viewed on BBC iPlayer at these links, though these will probably expire soon:

'Bali' episode

'Unseen' episode

It was a real honour and privilege to get this opportunity, and an experience that I will never forget. Sadly this marks the end of my snake-related adventures in Bali as the global COVID-19 situation forced me to leave in March 2020.

Let's hope my future life in Kenya (hopefully starting in August) provides experiences to match!

Bali Reptile Rescue with Steve Backshall and the BBC Deadly 60 teamBali Reptile Rescue with Steve Backshall and the BBC Deadly 60 team

Bali Reptile Rescue with Steve Backshall and the BBC Deadly 60 teamBali Reptile Rescue with Steve Backshall and the BBC Deadly 60 team

Cheers,

Robin

*For those who can't watch BBC iPlayer (it only works within the UK) the python was about 12 feet up in a tree, overhanging a murky and dubious-looking river! Getting to it was quite a feat...


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