Saving the world while you wait

Category: Agumbe Diaries


Agumbe is arguably the wettest place in the Western Ghats of India. We say arguably, because statisticians and meteorologists are still debating that fact from monsoon to monsoon. Either way, this rainforest plateau is the gateway to the Western Ghats for man, beast and weather alike. The monsoon here is spectacular, making it the perfect location to observe not just the poetic mood swings of the rain but also the creatures that thrive in it. Reptiles, amphibians and insects all make for very absorbing subjects.

Enjoy this series of posts on encounters with amphibians, reptiles and other animals from Agumbe, where the first Green Ogre Monsoon Conclave was held.

Encounter: Golden Frog

At the outset let me state that the frog we encountered is not to be confused with the Panamanian Golden Frog (Atelopus zeteki), which was last seen and filmed in the wild in 2007. The entire known population in the wild is now assumed extinct and the frog survives only in captivity. Our Golden Frog (Hylarana aurantiaca) is luckier, but the Sword of Damocles of the amphibian world, the fungal infection chytridiomycosis,

Meeting Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in the rainforest

The cab driver drops us at the end of a muddy road and says he’ll wait till we return. The rains have let up a bit and a few drops that cling to leaves is the only precipitation. The path winds uphill first and then starts to descend. Can’t stop, leeches are climbing up our legs from every direction. Can’t run – you need to be sure of where you are treading. Soon the sound gives it away — a stream rushing through the rainforest. A fallen tree on the way forces us to take another path, winding down, careful not to step on leaf litter. No one knows what lies beneath the dried and decomposing leaves. Glimpses of white shine through the leaves. The sound is loud now — a low, continuous roar. We find a a rock jutting above the stream and step on it, then exclaim in unison: “Wow!”

Encounter: Malabar Pit Viper

Malabar Pit Vipers are nocturnal and are generally found in low bushes, trees and on rocks. During the day they are inactive and may be seen basking. They are endemic to the Western Ghats and are found between altitudes of 600 to 2134 metres. Adult snakes can grow to 55-79 centimeters. The longest ever measured was 105 centimeters. The triangular head is broader than the neck. They are typically green but appear in other morphs and a lot of variations have been recorded, including reddish-brown, yellow, etc. On its back the snake is olive or brown with black or brown spots, which may be joined to form a zigzag pattern. The sides have faint yellow spotting and the tail has yellow and black markings. The pupils have vertical slits. Malabar Pit Vipers are ovoiviviparous — the eggs form, develop and hatch within the mother’s body.

Encounter: Monster Leeches

Since childhood, I have been mortally afraid of leeches, though I had not yet encountered them. My dad was an avid trekker and came back from his trips with tales of how leeches attached themselves to the limbs of trekkers and grew fat sucking blood. He said that dropping salt or lemon juice over them made them drop off. The stories implanted a permanent apprehension in my head about leeches. Add to that other stories I heard of leeches getting under the eyelid of someone who washed his face in a stream only to be discovered two days later when the eye swelled up, of HIV viruses being found inside leeches in Africa… shudder!

Encounter: Whining for a Vine Snake

Although an agitated vine snake looks impressive — it inflates and flattens its neck and throat, revealing a black-and-white checkered pattern — we made sure we did not do that. Such pictures of the vine snake (with chessboard markings and mouth open) are most common in photographic forums, indicating that the snakes were threatened or stressed by the photographers in search of an impressive picture. I implore readers, and photographers among them, to exercise restraint while photographing these snakes.

Monsoon Mating Mania

The phrase ‘Sex and the City’ brings to mind too many limp television romances but here we were in Agumbe, so far removed from anything urban that our cell phones barely twitched. Distractions were therefore not going to trouble us. So, absently, perhaps the single (and deprived?) among us must have pondered the question: “What was sex away from the city going to be like?” I assure you that it was not on our agenda to find out, but without our asking the rainforest’s little denizens put on an unabashed show just for us. Even a prude would have stopped to watch, and marvel at the minuscule arcs being etched in the great circle of life. Monsoon in top gear is a season for an unabashed green orgy, and we voyeuristic Green Ogres clicked away shamelessly. So much for the birds and bees…

Encounter: The Malaysian Moon Moth

Bright yellow, almost 12 inches long and half a foot across, it seemed almost artificial among the bright green leaves where I found it. I wondered first if it was a life-like miniature kite that was stuck in the leaves. I called out to the Green Ogres and exclaimed “Butterfly!” and got a curt rap on the knuckles. “Moth!” Well, most of the moths I had come across hardly had the vivid patterns I was looking at, so I knew this one was special. We were looking at the Malaysian Moon Moth (Actias maenas)