Perhentian Island Reptile List UPDATED

Following the results of the 2016 expedition, I can at this stage add at least one species to the Perhentian Island list. The following list remains a work in progress. 

  • Lesser Malacca Toad
  • Common Asian Toad
  • Banded Bullfrog
  • Smooth Frog
  • Common Tree Frog
  • Common Green Frog
  • Icthyopsis sp.
  • Armoured Pricklenape
  • Green Crested Lizard
  • Common Flying Dragon (Draco Volans)
  • Marbled Bent-Toed Gecko
  • Four Clawed Gecko
  • Tokay Gecko
  • Perhentian Islands Rock Gecko (Endemic- Grismer)
  • Spotted House Gecko
  • Smith’s Green-Eyed Gecko
  • Common House Gecko
  • Flat-Tailed House Gecko
  • Common Smooth-Scaled Gecko
  • Kuhl’s Flying Gecko
  • Smooth-Backed Gliding Gecko
  • Olive Tree Skink
  • Many-Lined Sun Skink
  • Long-Tailed Sun Skink
  • Short-Limbed Supple Skink
  • Perhentian Islands Forest Skink (Endemic- Grismer)
  • Clouded Monitor Lizard
  • Water Monitor Lizard
  • Brahminy Blindsnake
  • Reticulated Python
  • Oriental Whipsnake
  • Mangrove Snake (Venomous)
  • Golden Tree Snake
  • Painted Bronzeback
  • Blanford’s Bridle Snake
  • Red-Tailed Green Ratsnake
  • Common Wolf Snake
  • Banded Wolf Snake
  • Malayan Bridle Snake (New Addition- Identified by the 2016 Expedition)
  • Wagler’s Pit Viper (Venomous)
  • Banded Sea Krait (Venomous)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Perhentian Island Flooding

As parts of Terengganu flood for the second time in as many years, the islands where I’ve spent so much of my life recently have not been spared. During FxPedition Perhentian Islands we spent a lot of time staying in the middle of the village. We spent many nights eating out at the local restaurants, and we played football with kids and adults alike on the village beach football pitch (though the less said about my performances in goal, the better).

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I’ve stayed in the village twice now, and quite a lot has changed between times. This year there was a few new buildings by the jetty, and the beach football area had been enclosed off by fencing and concrete structures to hold back the tide. A concrete bridge of sorts was built to link a new motorcycle path to Long Beach to the village.  Importantly, the parts that needed updating, especially the sewage system, hadn’t been. The problems with the open sewer system and wider sewage disposal issues are not new, and I can find English-based papers citing the issues all the way back in 2001. Shockingly, a paper specifically mentions how yearly flooding is common on the islands due to overcrowding and lack of government investment that was promised in the 1990s (Ghani, Yassin and Ahmad, The Social Sciences, 2010). Conversely, a Malay language report suggests that this year’s flooding is unprecedented in scale.

We found out early yesterday that little, if anything, has changed. Some 30 homes were flooded, and aspects of public infrastructure were badly affected. If the images are anything to go by, it looks like the open sewer system has been badly damaged, and if that water has been flowing through the village then it represents a serious health hazard to local residents. These are genuinely devastating floods, and the economic losses will be significant. It it not just the locals that have been affected, as I understand that the island’s only health clinic and police station has also been affected. The response from government agencies has been good, with the Coastguard and Navy assisting to evacuate affected people to Kuala Besut, as far as I can tell, as well as assessing the damage to the village.

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They wouldn’t have to do that, though, if the government had properly invested in supporting the residents where it is actually needed it. Whilst flooding on this scale may be rare, papers show that it is not uncommon. Upgrading the sewage system (that has shown to impact drinking water quality and thus health) would be a sure start. I’m sure Malaysia has enough skilled Geographers to assess flood risk, and I can only help that studies are carried out to work out how to protect the village from the next event. The Perhentian Islands are an excellent financial resource for Malaysia- it is damn time that the government treated the residents with the respect they deserve. The islands may be a beautiful paradise for tourists in summer, but what about the poor residents during the monsoon season? Having lived with them, I can tell you that the islanders are tough and resourceful and will respond to these difficulties with courage- it just seems evident that more could be (and should be) done to help them.

Sadly, the islanders are not isolated in their plight, with some 23,000 evacuated across Terengganu state. My thoughts are with them and the islanders at this challenging time.

Footnote

I am well aware that criticising the Malaysian government is risky, but if no-one ever says anything then nothing will change. The people of the islands deserve better. The first slideshow’s images originate from myself and Joshua Gray, the rest are taken from social media. The opinions expressed above are solely my own. 

Malaysian Adventures

Thank you to everyone I’ve travelled with to Malaysia on two expeditions- Perhentian Islands Ecological Research and FxPedition Perhentian Islands- and every amazing person I’ve met on the way. You are all awesome! A big thank you to Craghoppers also, who’s generous support kept me and the teams safe from the mossies (apart from the ninja mossies who went up shirt sleeves). Neil Hinds and Daniel Quilter deserve massive thanks too, for literally making this happen and facilitating so much of it.

I have to save the biggest thank you to my teams though- Simon Rolph and Josh Gray in 2014, and then Josh Gray (came again, the muppet/legend), Ellie Ryder, Megan Francis, Alfie Sheridan, Lizzie Salkus and Ollie Bateman. You all did amazingly well in some really tricky conditions at times, got some great data, made some awesome memories and saw some pretty cool things, too. You also put up with me for 6 weeks, which is easier said than done!

THANK YOU!

Impressions of Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

Known to savvy travellers and gap yah students as just ‘KL’, Kuala Lumpur frequently appears as little more than a stopover in many travellers itineraries. Read on to find out why you might want to spent a few days here in the future! 

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We’ve just arrived in KL, and it’s way past midnight. A taxi has dropped us off in the middle of nowhere, we’re dripping with sweat already and I’ve just trod on an enormous locust- and then some angry dogs started chasing us. A huge rat crossing the road did little to settle our nerves, before we finally made it to the Yellow House and slept our way into sweaty jetlag oblivion. It’s fair to say that my introduction to Kuala Lumpur had a less than auspicious start, and that the city had a lot of making up to do!

The Petronas Towers

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The icons of KL are the Petronas towers, great pillars of metal and glass that thrust high into the misty humidity of the city, and they are truly spectacular. There is a very expensive mall (think Western designer goods) attached to it, as well as a pretty good aquarium, though again entry is expensive. More skyscrapers are being built in the area, so I imagine that as the Malaysian economy develops in the coming years, the Petronas Towers zone will become even more impressive. The gardens around the towers are delightful, with a surprising amount of wildlife dotted around including Orioles and the huge Lyssa Zampa moth (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-27758640).  If you are struggling with the humidity (as we were), the gardens feature shallow swimming pools that whilst probably designed for tourists, made a refreshing break for us all. It’s an undoubtedly pretty part of Kuala Lumpur, though the unerring levels of cleanliness and near-military attention of the groundskeepers makes it feel a little sanitised.

Chinatown

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If you want to really explore Kuala Lumpur though, you must leave the air conditioned malls behind and head out into the wider city. My favourite part of the city is Chinatown, because it is so radically different to anywhere I’ve been before. Red lanterns and various cultural motifs somehow add decor to narrow streets lined with vendors selling everything imaginable, a lot of it definitely illegitimate. It’s a thrilling experience though, and haggling badly with seasoned Chinese hawkers to avoid the tourist tax is all part of the experience. The seedy side streets are even more exciting, but god knows what they sell down there! I vividly remember unidentifiable animals being chopped into pieces left and right, the occasional chicken wandering around, food waste pooling in the alley- but it’s all part of the experience. Whilst I had serious tunnel vision at the time, it felt like a bit of an adventure at least. The actual food in the area smells amazing, and I bet the street food is seriously, seriously good, though food hygiene might not be much of a thing. There are some beautiful Chinese temples nearby too that are well worth a visit, whilst you never know what you might find in some of the pet shops (the fact that they wouldn’t let me take photos explains a lot).

Food 

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There is a lot to do in KL if you plan it well enough, with the Batu Caves not far away, various museums and the like. For me though, the real secret to Kuala Lumpur is the food. It’ll blow away any asian food you’ve had in the UK- it really is incredible. Seriously tasty (sedap!) and most definiely spicy, the cuisine is like a fusion of indian and chinese dishes, with their own distinct Malay twist on everything. It’s quite cheap coming from the West too, but so, so worth it. Satay in KL will redefine the word delicious for you, and some of the world’s best Chinese restaurants can be found in the city. Lastly, I went to a very posh restaurant in the previously mentioned KLCC Suria restaurant, and nearly spent a kidney for tiny portions with waiter service. Worth it? Absolutely not. Eat where the locals eat! The best meal I’ve ever had was in Ipoh, where a huge range of exquisite vegetarian curries were served on banana leaves, and you were of course expected to eat with your hands. It was amazing. I paid about £5 for what in the UK would have been a £40 platter. Bargain! Just try it! I recommend Nasi Goreng, whilst Beef Rendang and Nasi Lemak are also firm favourites. Drinks wise, go for a milo ice- you won’t regret it.

Verdict

Kuala Lumpur is definitely more than just a stopover, but the city’s small size and good transport system (use the LRT!) means you can still tick things off pretty quickly. I think it’s fair to say that there are more exciting cities in the region, but KL has its charms. I’m not a citiy person, and KL isn’t my favourite city, but it’s still a relatively cheap city to visit, and to be honest I’d come here just to eat, as I love the food. It’s a good place to acclimtise to the South East Asian humidity too, but just remember that if you can feel air con, then you probably aren’t exploring Malaysia properly, are you?

Accomodation Choices

Pods KL (http://podsbackpacker.com/

I really like this hostel due to it’s location right next to KL Sentral. There are private rooms and shared dorms at a good price, the decor is refreshing and there is a bar to chill out at. The staff are also lovely and are more than capable of pointing you in the right direction for an adventure- or providing candles for an emergency birthday cake!

Yellow House KL (http://yellowhousekl.com/)

It’s simple, no frills accomodation at an even cheaper price, but it is also part of a much bigger project under an amazing social entrepreneur named Shyam. If anyone knows the real Kuala Lumpur, it is her, and make sure to take part in the brilliant homeless hairwashes they do to get a deeper understanding of the city. You can take part in all manner of empowering projects here- well worth a look!

 

 

 

Expedition Blog 1

All Things Change

I’ve been on the Perhentians for a few days now, and it’s fair to say I haven’t settled in yet. It takes time to acclimatise to consistent 30 degree Celsius temperatures, and even more time to get used to the humidity. Running before you can walk in this climate will leave you physically exhausted- especially coming from the comparatively temperate, mild UK.

It’s only been two years, but the islands have changed significantly. Where once there was rainforest, there are now new resorts. As a British citizen, it would be wrong to criticize this development, as we did exactly the same thing many moons ago. Nonetheless, it is still such a shame to see habitats that I knew to be species rich to be destroyed. It hurts a bit, to be honest. Walking from the fishing village to Petani Beach, I came across a group of men clearing vast swathes of the jungle. For what purpose, I’m unsure- perhaps to give the path a better view, or to make way for new resorts. In any case, 100s of metres of jungle are now much thinner, with the vegetation that supported the multiple species of gecko, skink and agamid that lived there wiped out. An ecosystem irreversibly damaged by a few men with machetes and chainsaws. It just doesn’t seem right.

The Perhentians are just a very small fragment of a global process of land-use change, of course, but that doesn’t make the changes we are seeing any less important. It is important that we chart how these changes are affecting local ecosystems, both as a record of change and also so that lessons can be learned from the Perhentians when other islands develop in the future.

On a more positive note, the species list continues to grow apace. Larger team sizes are reaping dividends in terms of sightings, which is simply attributable to having more eyes scanning the area. As a result, we’ve seen more Colugos (Galeopterus variegatus) in 3 days than we saw in 4 weeks in 2014! We’ve also come across two Tree Shrews (Tupaia glis), an incredibly strange, rabbit sized mammal with the agility of a squirrel and the face of a shrew! Reptile wise, the Smith’s Green-Eyed Gecko (Gekko smithii) has stolen the show for me so far, with an incredibly close encounter with a large male last night. The Monitor Lizards have all been relatively small so far, whilst a tantalisingly brief glimpse of some form of supple skink only hints at what lies in store. There are new species on this island, I’m sure of it! The highlight of the expedition for me so far occurred at 7am today, where I was waist-deep in the sea having had a fitful night (never stand in the same ants nest three times in an hour-ouch!) in the hammock. With the dark, rounded bodies of 4 Blue Spotted Stingrays (Neotrygon kuhlii) lurking nearby, imagine my shock (in between a Sea Eagle fly past and a Parrotfish bite), when a baby Spotted Eagle Ray comes swimming past! An absolutely storming sight- a lifetime first for me.

On a more sobering end note, I’ve also discovered two mist-nets already. A worrying sign to say the least- hopefully we won’t find too many more. Research will kick off properly next week, once the final bits of logistics are sorted, and hopefully I’ll have the drone up in the air soon once new batteries are sourced. I’ve found the perfect place for an NDVI attempt, so I can’t wait to have a crack at that!

My images this year have been consistently rubbish so far this year (I blame shaky hands!), so you’ll have to make do with these.

Until next time,

Billy, Pulau Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia.

 

Road to an Expedition: The Provisional Team

Part 1 of the ‘Road to an Expedition’ Series. 

With just under a year to go until Perhentian Ecology kicks off all over again, the time has come to recruit a new team for next year. There were 3 of us in 2014, and from experience, that wasn’t quite enough for a fully fledged ecological expedition (and it wasn’t, it was a feasibility study). Whilst 3 was too few, any more than 6 would limit the mobility and flexibility of the expedition, and with the potential of teaming up with a Malaysian university, a compact, flexible and experienced team is exactly what is needed. In a simple posting on Facebook, I’ve already managed to assemble a very strong team, although a few people who said they would like to join have skill-sets that just don’t match the task at hand.

Provisionally, and ultimately in my head, the team stands as follows.

Billy Burton, Expedition Leader: Making it happen. Performing surveys, planning, grant applications, social media, medical support and all the other fun things that come with leadership. I’m very experienced on the Perhentian Islands and know exactly what needs to be done to make our research be as valuable as possible. Theoretically at least, I am currently one of the authorities on the ecology of the Perhentian Islands.

Rhian Grey, Director of Science: Rhian is a zoology graduate of the University of Exeter, with an impressive array of field experience, including stints in Borneo and China. Rhian will add ecological authority to the expedition, ensuring that our methodologies are as effective as possible and that they are planned and adhered to properly. A good photographer in her own right, Rhian will slot into the role like a glove.

Josh Gray, Head of Photography: Josh was a member of the original 2014 expedition, and is entering his final year at Falmouth University, studying Marine and Natural History Photography. He is an extremely talented photographer, and is highly experienced in tropical rainforests, spending the Summer of 2014 embedded with Ecoteer, venturing for days at a time into Taman Negara. The quality of the images Josh captures are second to none and thus he makes a no-brainer for 2016.

Jamie Bubb, Expedition Logistics and Management: Jamie is perhaps the most ‘left-field’ selection, but it is this that makes him a brilliant addition to the team. Jamie is studying business at Lancaster University, and spent last year on a year abroad at a university in Bangkok, Thailand. Highly motivated, with excellent organisational and management skills honed in a number of internships, an ecological expedition will admittedly be a new experience for Jamie. I have no doubts, however, that he will be vital in getting this project off the ground, in the terms of organisation, networking and managing the day-to-day operations on the ground.

This team offers a much more holistic approach than was possible last year, and there might still be room for one more person. Space could be made for one outstanding candidate for sure. Another bioscientist perhaps, or a skilled videographer to film a documentary based around the expedition and the islands.

Our research will invariably focus on herps, and I discovered a neat little trick use by Expedition Manu, Peru, in the Amazon this year. In order to gain ID shots of smaller herps, they used a glass plate upon which the reptile/amphibian was placed, enabling them to capture detailed shots of underside of the specimen, which can be highly valuable. This is a neat little trick that we will be hoping to use next Summer.

To round off, I am really happy with the prospective team for next year. There might be room for one more, and current members may decide they don’t want to go. However, as it stands, Perhentian Ecology is going to produce some excellent science next summer!

Back to the Perhentians?

With some good news today, it seems like I will be heading back to the Perhentian Islands in 2016 to carry out further research on the terrestrial environment. This is pending a few important things; securing a research permit from the Economic Planning Unit of the Malaysian Government and securing funding, for a start. I intend to team up with Neil Hinds, of Blue Temple Conservation, who will be welcoming researchers to his HQ starting next year.

There are a vast number of options for my research on the islands, and it will take a while for me to come up with a final plan- and I’ll certainly need lots of advice from university faculty! I’m looking to go down an interdisciplinary path, as my current research interests involve the impact of development on the environment.

I’d be interested in measuring the abundance of Varanidae (Monitor Lizards, of which there are two species present) in certain areas- comparing their numbers at different distances from major resorts. I suspect that at a couple of sites, particularly in a landfill area, their abundance would actually increase close to the resorts. The number of Varanidae is very high on the islands due to a lack of predators, and thus the Perhentians offer a relatively unique opportunity to study their response and adaptations to human encroachment on their territory.

Other than that, it would be amazing to be able to use an IR-Converted camera on a drone in order to create an NDVI image of the Perhentians, hopefully displaying environmental degradation around resorts and also revealing where the last pristine refuges are the species on the islands. It is in these areas that I anticipate further species that are new to science to be found.

In any case, I’m delighted to be able to put Perhentian Research back on the calendar, and to have the opportunity to continue the work I started in 2014.

Perhentian Islands Reptiles & Amphibians Species List

ter many weeks of work on the Perhentian Islands report as a follow-up from the 2014 expedition, I’ve compiled all current herp data and placed it into one table, from several different sources. Whilst it is inevitable that more species will be added over time, this represents the sum of current herpetological research on the islands, and that is something to work with at least. The data has been compiled from Coral Cay 2003 Pilot Study, Coral Cay 2005 Study, ‘Herpetology on the Fringes of the Sunda Shelf: A Discussion of Discovery, Taxonomy and Biogeography (2011), coupled with my own data from the expedition.  I really hope that it helps any future research efforts on the island’s herps easier.

Family Scientific Name Common Name Location Found By Notes
Bufonidae Bufo Parvus Lesser Malacca Toad Kecil Coral Cay, Grismer, PIER
Bufonidae Duttaphyrnus Melanostictus Common Asian Toad Besar Grismer, PIER
Microhylidae Kaloula Pulchra Banded Bullfrog Besar, Kecil Coral Cay, Grismer, PIER
Rhacophoridae Theloderma Licin Smooth Frog Besar, Kecil Grismer
Rhacophoridae Polypedates Leucomystax Common Tree Frog Besar, Kecil Coral Cay, Grismer, PIER
Ranidae Hylarana Erythraea Common Green Frog Besar Grismer, PIER
Icthyophiidae Icthyopsis Sp. N/A Besar Grismer Likely to be new species’.
Agamidae Acanthosaura Armata Armoured Pricklenape Besar, Kecil Coral Cay, Grismer, PIER
Agamidae Bronchocela Crisatella Green Crested Lizard Besar, Kecil Coral Cay, Grismer, PIER
Agamidae Draco Sumatranus* Common Gliding Lizard Besar Grismer * Likely to be same species
Agamidae Draco Volans* Flying Dragon Besar Coral Cay, PIER * Likely to be same species
Gekkonidae Cytodactylus Quadrivirgatus Marbled Bent-Toed Gecko Besar Coral Cay, Grismer,
Gekkonidae Gehyra Mutilata Four Clawed Gecko Besar, Kecil Grismer
Gekkonidae Gekko Gecko Tokay Gecko Kecil Coral Cay, Grismer, PIER
Gekkonidae Gekko Moncarchus Spotted House Gecko Besar, Kecil Coral Cay, Grismer, PIER
Gekkonidae Gekko Smithi Smith’s Green-Eyed Gecko Besar Coral Cay, Grismer, PIER
Gekkonidae Cnemapsis Perhentianensis Perhentian Island Rock Gecko Besar Grismer (Zootaxa) Endemic Species
Gekkonidae Hemidactylus Frenatus Common House Gecko Besar, Kecil, Susu Dara, Rawa Coral Cay, Grismer, PIER
Gekkonidae Hemidactylus Platyrus Flat-Tailed House Gecko Besar Grismer, PIER
Gekkonidae Lepidoctylus Lugubris Common Smooth-Scaled Gecko Susu Dara Kecil Grismer
Gekkonidae Ptychozoon Kuhli Kuhl’s Flying Gecko Besar Coral Cay, Grismer, PIER
Gekkonidae Ptychozoon Linotum Smooth-Backed Gliding Gecko Besar Coral Cay*, Grismer Outside of survey period
Scincidae Dasia Olivacea Olive Tree Skink Besar Coral Cay, Grismer, PIER
Scincidae Eutropis Multifasciata Many-Lined Sun Skink Besar, Kecil Coral Cay, Grismer, PIER
Scincidae Eutropis Longicaudata Long-Tailed Sun Skink Besar, Kecil Coral Cay, Grismer, PIER
Scincidae Lygosoma Quadrupes Short-Limbed Supple Skink Rawa, Besar
Scincidae Sphenomorphus Perhentianensis Perhentian Islands Forest Skink Besar Grismer (Zootaxa) Endemic Species
Varanidae Varanus Nebulosis Clouded Monitor Lizard Besar Grismer *Possibly Same Species
Varanidae Varanus Salvator Water Monitor Lizard Besar, Kecil Coral Cay, Grismer, PIER
Varanidae Varanus Bengalensis Bengal Monitor Lizard Besar, Kecil Coral Cay, PIER *Possibly Same Species
Tyhplopidae Ramphotyphlops Braminus Brahminy Blindsnake Besar Grismer
Boidae Python Reticulatus Reticulated Python Besar, Kecil, Susu Dara Coral Cay, Grismer, PIER
Colubridae Ahaetulla Prasina Oriental Whipsnake Besar Coral Cay,  Grismer
Colubridae Boiga Dendrophila* Gold-Ringed Cat Snake Besar Coral Cay, Grismer
Colubridae Chrysopelea Ornata Golden Tree Snake Besar Coral Cay
Colubridae Dendrelaphis Pictus Painted Bronzeback Besar Coral Cay
Colubridae Dryocalamus Davisoni* Blanford’s Bridle Snake Besar Coral Cay
Colubridae Gonyosoma Oxycephalum* Red-Tailed Green Ratsnake Besar Coral Cay
Colubridae Lycodon Capucinus Common Wolf Snake Besar, Kecil Coral Cay, Grismer
Colubridae Lycodon Subcintus Banded Wolf Snake Besar Grismer Unconfirmed
Viperidae Tropidolaemus Wagleri Wagler’s Pit Viper Besar, Kecil Coral Cay, Grismer