Sunday, November 23, 2008

Snakes Malaysia; A (too) close encounter with an Ular Kapak Hijau

I recently had a (really) close encounter with one of Malaysian snakes that is super-poisonous it seems. The irony of it all was that I (nor anyone from the group I was with) realize how potent this snake is. After innocently posting a picture of the snake on this blog, my good bush friend Pak Abu manages to identify it as a Pit Viper. Now Pit Viper s doesn’t sound friendly at all do they?

This is the snake I saw during a trek up to Perlus Waterfall with a group of walkers. It was lying all curled up on small tiny branches just about ankle height off the ground in the middle of the walking path. I was the last person walking in the group when I suddenly saw a few walkers stopping in the middle of the trail, squatting and snapping pictures. There were giggles and laughter…that made me really curious.

Turns out to be a small green snake. Unknowingly, yours sincerely too took the opportunity to take some photos. There were some leaves covering it, so I moved them leaves with a stick I found nearby (this is probably the smartest thing I did that day). I manage to get closer, a couple of inches away to take the picture. As I am writing this, scenes of Austin Stevens (of Animal Planet, NOT the wrestling dude) fooling with poisonous snakes flash through my mind. I am just glad I wasn’t dumb enough to follow his ‘actions’ that day.

Could this be Trimeresurus hageni?


Photos I took and to the waterfall I continued on. I have been to some jungle but never really come across a snake like this. During my childhood when I was growing up in the small town of Baling, Kedah, my dad always shared scary stories about a particular snake called Ular Kapak. He told me that some of the locals call it Ular Kapak Bodoh (Ular-Snake, Kapak- Axe, Bodoh- Stupid). They call it so because it choose to curl up in the middle of walkways, paved roads even and will remain there no matter what. Even if someone or something comes along and it decides to puncture the ‘visitor’ with venom filled fangs, it will still stand its ground and continue curled up at the same spot…as if nothing had happened.

This is especially dangerous for local villagers, especially at nights. Riding bicycles or motorbikes, it is common back then to see riders (and pillions) to raise both their legs high up in the air whenever they see a pile of ‘something’ on the road ahead. Even if it turns out to be just a pile of cow dung. But if it is the Ular Kapak Bodoh, there is a probability that it will strike at you. With legs raised up high, passer by will be spared from the snake’s venomous bite. Thanks to it’s ‘bodoh-ness’ of not edging away, locals will then stop their vehicle, find a piece of long stick or bamboo and finish the snake off. End of another ‘road’ menace they say.

Oops…back to this snake. Thanks to Pak Abu, I think I have managed to track down exactly what it is. It is called the Indonesian Pit Viper or Trimeresurus hageni. Local Malaysians call it Ular Kapak Hijau. This (and any other pit vipers for the matter) is not a snake you want to mess around with. All Pit Vipers species in Malaysia it seems injects the hemotoxic venom that degenerates body tissues and destroys blood cells. They have this diamond shaped head and their venom is so potent that they can kill an adult human.

I wondered that day why this particular snake did not move away… not even an inch despite so many people walking by (it was still there when I started walking back from the waterfall). Probably because it is nocturnal. Perhaps it is the ‘way’ of the Trimeresurus hageni or perhaps it is deep in slumber from a good meal. Or perhaps like Pak Abu said… ‘it has nothing to fear coz it knows for a fact that it can bring you down with just one strike’. I rest my case.