Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Cohabitating with Bali’s reptiles and amphibians

One of the things that we have loved about living in the Balinese countryside are all of the creatures that we encounter on a daily basis. Some people might be squeamish when it comes to residing in a house that will have animals not only around it – but inside of it at any given moment.

But educating yourself and learning that these creatures are a natural part of the ricefield and riverside landscapes in Bali, and that in general they either don’t care about your presence, or would rather avoid you altogether should help lay some concerns to rest. In a later post, we have some resources about venomous or poisonous animals here, and what you can do if you encounter them or are bitten by one. Let this serve as  bit of a guide to the most common animals.
Animals exist in a precarious balance on this island. Development, poisoning, and hunting have all impacted wildlife populations. It is rare now, for example, to see owls in Bali, which were once common. The famed Bali starlings are virtually non-existent. We have seen red squirrels carried around on strings by locals. It’s not uncommon to see young Balinese men on motorcycles with hunting rifles slung over their shoulders.
Animals may also be rabid, especially dogs. In the village of Amed in East Bali, we were surprised at how few dogs were there and found out from a local that they all had to be shot because rabies had spread through the area. If bitten by a dog or cat, you should seek medical advise immediately, and be prepared (if it’s available) for many rabies shots.
We’re going to cover three major kinds of animals over three posts in the coming weeks, starting with reptiles and amphibians, moving on to insects, and finishing off with birds and mammals. And then a post on venomous animals.
A tokek (or tokay) gecko, the largest of all geckos, has a distinctive mating call which we’ve used as our mobile phone ring tone.

Geckos. There are two major kinds of geckos here. The small ones, cicak(pronounced “chee-chak”) are the most common and you will see them ranging form microscopic newborns clammering around on your floor (watch where you step!) to ones that are several inches in length, ranging from very dark green to almost white in colour. One night, I was gently nipped on the finger one night by one, and it dutifully jumping on my shoulder afterwards. It was like a sweet little kiss, but it sent me fleeing from the bed. Then there are the tokek geckos, and these ones can be BIG – they are, in fact, the biggest geckos around. You don’t want to get too close – if they bite you, they won’t let go, and it apparently hurts. It’s best to view them from a bit of distance. They’ll just stare back at you with googly eyes. When they make a mating call, it is LOUD and sounds like a child’s squeaky toy. The first time I encountered one of these in the bathroom, I screamed! They can be quite a surprise to find on the wall when you turn the light on in a darkened room. Either variety of gecko are commonly outside or inside homes, and they are only beneficial in that they catch creepy crawly bugs in your home. They also will poo around your home, so be sure to use a dampened paper towel or rag to clean it up.

Snakes, like this one that we came across in a ricefield, occasionally like to watch you watch them. But keep your distance!

Snakes. Yes, there are many snakes in Bali, but only a few are poisonous (we’ll take about that in a later post). Most are harmless and when they see you, they will generally slither away quickly. Snakes want nothing to do with humans. Sadly, you will come across most snakes (including big ones) dead on the road after being run over or killed by villagers. But we have seen healthy living ones jumping – yes, jumping – down stairs, sliding into irrigation channels (yes, they swim!), charging toward us in ricefields, and, rathering alarmingly, ending up in our house. If you have a snake in your house, it will likely hide, and the best thing to do is stay clear of it and let it leave. Creating a clear way for it to leave is most beneficial. You can also call someone experienced with snake handling to remove it for you. Even if it is a venomous snake, it will prefer to avoid a confrontation with humans.

Frogs and toads. There are all kinds of frogs and toads here, and not all of them live in ricefields. One day, I opened our friend Monica’s folding door to have a long-legged, bright green tree frog bound several feet across the room. It had been hiding between the joints of the folding door. We also have enjoyed huge toads in our garden, though you probably wouldn’t want to touch (or kiss) them. It’s also good to keep a close eye on the road driving home at night as many frogs and toads will be hopping across the roadway.

Written by Christopher Laursen

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