The singular gecko

tokay

My first, and only, encounter with a Tokay gecko was with the individual in the photo above. I blogged some time back about seeing it in the Nameri Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam.

The website of the Herpetological Society of Ireland informed me that I had seen the black-spotted form of Gekko gecko gecko: native to southern China and northern Vietnam. Northeastern India harbours the red-spotted form. That was a bit odd. So I wrote to John Dunbar, a herpetologist in Maynooth (Ireland) asking whether the two forms could share a forest.

John referred me to a paper which said that there is some evidence that the response of the two variants to humidity and temperature could determine their ranges. As a result the two kinds would not be found in the same forest. My sighting would challenge this model, and therefore could be interesting enough, scientifically, to be publishable. I was happy that a holiday could get me a footnote in a textbook on herpetology or ecology.

But due diligence required that I find the back-story of this singular gecko. I called up Sushil Ngate, my birding guide in Nameri, and asked him whether he knew anything more about this individual. According to Sushil, this gecko had been confiscated from a gang of wildlife smugglers who were caught in a village near the sanctuary. The gecko we saw was a lone specimen found with them, and the forest guards had released it in the location we saw. Presumably the guards did not know the details I learnt from John’s website. So this individual got to where he was by human intervention. There went my dream of fame based on a holiday snapshot.

But there is now scope for many more holidays masquerading as work. Where did the smugglers find this black-spotted Tokay gecko? Surely they did not capture it in Vietnam or China and bring it to India, or did they? If not, then is there a hidden population of these geckos in the vicinity? Can they be found? Isn’t it exciting when a scientific mystery intersects with a criminal mystery?

If you are travelling in the West Kameng Bioreserve, please look for these geckos and record them. I would love to hear from you, and see your pictures. I’m dying to know the resolution of this mystery.

Beasts of Nameri

tokay

A wildlife sanctuary should be full of fearsome beasts, and Nameri is no exception. The most fearsome are the leeches. The evening we reached our camp, we met a group of six French tourists with blood-drenched socks who were still removing leeches from their legs. Leeches are abundant when the forest is wet; our previous trip to Nameri had been in the dry months of February and March, when we had not come across these blood-thirsty creatures at all.

grasshopperOur five kilometer walk through the forest began with a sighting of the stunning Tokay gecko which posed for photos high up on the trunk of an immense tree. After that we saw a variety of insects. Large red bugs scampered through the dry leaves underfoot: their bright colours a warning to predators that they are poisonous if eaten. Large red ants foraged in military lines along the trunks of trees. I startled a huge grasshopper, which sprang away and then was still. It took a lot of searching to find and photograph it. It was interesting to see all this with the Victors, for whom it was their first visit to a jungle. In their company I noticed things which I’d got used to over the years. This also made me understand what Sushil Ngate, our guide, and the armed forest guard with us might feel walking through the forest with us.

The ground was often swampy. Some tree-tunks had been thrown across these patches on the route, and you had to climb over them to cross the slushy ground. We managed this with some help from the guards. I was happy that my body-core exercises paid off in a better sense of balance. I guess we get better and better at physical activities with age until the body fails. The path came to a little rocky stream which would eventually empty into the Jia Bhoroloi, and followed it for a while. As we approached the stream, we could hear alarm calls of a barking deer from inside the jungle on the other side of the flow. I wondered whether it was a leopard; they are shy creatures and hard to spot. Sushil said it could be.

bugWe walked on. Now the terrain turned grassy with damp patches: ripe with leeches. I’d tucked my trousers into my long socks, emulating the forest guard. He told us to walk quickly through this stretch and not stand in one place too long: that’s when the leeches begin to climb up you. As we crossed the next swampy ground, the guard pointed out a pug-mark in the mud: a tiger’s. It was fresh. The marks continued next to the path for a few paces and then disappeared in to the grass towards the stream. The alarm calls were explained.

elephant

We walked single-file through the forest with the guard and Sushil leading, and The Victor bringing up the rear just behind me. Suddenly The Family pointed into the foliage and said “Elephant”. I peered at the shadowed bulk. Sushil and the guard noticed a baby and told us to be quiet and keep walking. I saw the mother quickly move to stand between us and the baby, and turn her head to watch us. If she decided to charge, the guard’s gun would have been useless. More than that, I would not have wanted an elephant to be hurt in its natural habitat only because we intruded on it. We walked quickly past, but I managed to click a photo in passing. The mother kept turning to stay between the baby and us; so the small elephant is visible in the photo only as a shadow.

By the end of the walk I had collected two angry and unfed leeches on my shoes. The Victors and The Family were not so lucky. In the last stretch of the walk they picked up a leech each. We sat in the visitor’s refuge and inspected our wounds, and got rid of the blood-suckers.