Categories
Asia Lizards Me

Blue Tree Monitor

Good looking ones have no personality

I said this was my childhood dream lizard. And, I also said blue is the rarest color in animals. But no, this lizard didn’t hold a special place in my heart only by its looks. Eye candies ain’t my thing (tho funny to say that in the gram). It’s special to me because we have something in common deep down, and we are both misjudged by the looks.

Good-looking ones have no personality. And what? Ugly ones have good personalities(?) Could be right most of the time. But generalization and stereotypical thoughts are harmful to the one in a zillion. This lizard proves to me that good-looking ones can have even greater personalities.

Blue is the rarest color in animals. You might already know that. But why?

Unlike other colors, Blue in reptiles is NOT a pigment, but a trick to human eyes. It’s produced by having other wavelengths of light canceled but only blue being bounced through reflective cells called iridophores on the skin of only a few species on earth.

In spite of looking extravagantly beautiful to the point that many might mistake it for being ostentatiously flashy, it has zero intention of flexing. Matter of fact, it’s been trying so hard to stay away from the crowd – A reclusive, hermetic and secluded lifestyle, however, of natural-born ornate appearance.

Monitor lizards are generally powerful, fearless in front of humans and widespread throughout SE Asia. But just not this unusual one.

The Blue Tree Monitor (Varanus macraei), or the blue-spotted tree monitor, is a fragile, timid, and uncommon species that can only be found in Batanta, a small island in Irian Jaya of Indonesia. Its natural range is among the smallest of all monitors. This species had been hiding successfully for over 66 million years. The species was known to science for a mere 19 years and not too much is known still today.

It was my childhood dream lizard to die for. Now having this literally in hand, this is the Blue Monday I love 💙

Categories
Asia Snakes

Pit Vipers of Asia – A Few of the Eye Candies That Won’t Kill You

Many Kiwis, Hawaiians, and Europeans who recently moved to Asia like to tell me how wonderful Asia is and how much they love living in Asia. But there is this one specific nightmare that is bothering them – snakes.

I say it’s fair enough to have snakes here. As the largest continent on earth and being warm and bushy, why would you not think there would be snakes in here? Not trying to scare you but I can easily name some venomous snakes in Asia – King cobra and many other cobras, kraits, coral snakes, sea snakes, Russell’s viper, and saw-scaled viper – all deadly. If you believe bright-colored snakes are more dangerous then I have to tell you, no. Most of the deadly snakes I mentioned are in dull colors from brown, gray to black. Ironically, the bright-colored venomous snakes in Asia are usually not deadly, such as the Asian pit vipers of the genus Trimeresurus. Here are a few I have encountered:

Most of the species are bright green like this:

Bamboo pit viper (Trimeresurus albolabris)

An unusual one can be blue like this:

Sunda Island pit viper (Trimeresurus insularis)

There are also a few exceptional dark ones like this:

Mangrove pit viper (Trimeresurus purpureomaculatus)
Categories
Snakes

Ouroboros: The Snake That Eats Itself

Life, death, and rebirth.

Ouroboros (or uroboros) — an ancient symbol depicting a reptile eating its own tail. It symbolizes fertility in some religions. The tail is a phallic symbol (an erect penis). The mouth is a yonic (vagina) or womb-like symbol.

In real life, it happens.

Although not common, I have seen snakes eating themselves. Scientifically, autocannibalism (self-cannibalism) in snakes is not normal. Well so, snakes get disoriented when overheated, and their metabolism goes into overdrive. It makes the snakes feel so hungry to the point that they will try to eat the first moving thing they see, and that’s usually their own tail. When the feeding mechanism starts, snakes will have their focus fully on consuming the prey. The feeling of pain will be overridden. Many snakes will keep going even if they’re bit, mauled, and even beheaded.

You can see why ancient Egyptians chose snakes to symbolize the eternal cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

Categories
Africa

Wild Elephant’s Foot Plants in Isalo, Madagascar | 我在馬達加斯加伊薩盧遇見象牙宮

Yes, this is one of the rare succulents “trending” recently especially in Asia. Keeping them in pots at home is a really good hobby. Finding wild ones in their natural habits is just on another level.

Even photos of wild ones are not as easy to find as most other objects.

Here is one of the wild elephant’s foot plants I came across in Isalo, Madagascar.

It looks like Pachypodium rosulatum var. gracilius to me (but I have not studied botany so please correct me if I’m wrong)

All my field trips were fauna-focused hence I didn’t have much time to spend on the plants in Madagascar. (The animals kept me busy all the time) But I was just amazed by this unique plant I almost walked past by.

Also, the animals I studied rely largely on their unique habitats in Madagascar. Gotta have an idea about these interesting plants.

Only after I climbed up this mountain I could be eligible to comment on that mountain behind me.

Isalo is in the southwestern corner of the Province of Fianarantsoa, in the Ihorombe region. It is 720 km away from Madagascar’s capital city (Antananarivo). Not super far but due to road conditions it took me 3 full days to only get there. It’s for sure worth it.

Being completely different from the rest of Madagascar, Isalo is arid and hot, filled with deep canyons, sandstone domes, and flat-topped mountains.

Not as many animals here comparing to the rest of Madagascar. Mostly lemurs, desert lizards, boas, scorpions, and birds. Landscape and plants are uniquely amazing though. Over 70% of plants are endemic. This is exactly where the Elephant’s foot plants in my photos were.

(象牙宮 塊根植物 多肉植物)

Categories
Americas HK Me

Color Is The New Forbidden Fruit

From yellow vs blue in Hong Kong to black vs white in the States.

A world like now everything is politics, things pure as colors have become risky words, is keeping people to think less, speak less, and act less.

Categories
Amphibians Asia HK

Interracial Love Also Occurs In Nature

Interracial love also occurs in nature, though rare — Hong Kong newts (Paramesotriton hongkongensis) and Banded bullfrogs (Kaloula pulchra) co-exist in their natural habitats. They coulda been fighting for food. But they chose to form an alliance to defend each other as one.

Even species ain’t no matter. Why races?

Categories
Africa Americas Me

How Could Black Lives Not Matter?

Africa was the birth-place of Homo sapiens.

Diamond, sugar, salt, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, silver, petroleum and cocoa beans, coffee – All happiness in life is from Africa!

#ICantBreathe #BlackLivesMatter
Categories
HK

Aliens In Hong Kong | 香港的外來入侵物種

Believe it or not? Aliens are everywhere in Hong Kong. There must be some around you. Of course, I am talking about alien species – the plants or animals introduced outside their original distributions. From mile-a-minute weed, water hyacinth, to house cockroaches, red fire ants, apple snails, to tilapia, and the vertebrates I mention below. Like it or not, we have many non-native species living here in Hong Kong, while some are thriving.

Are aliens invasive?

Ones that are not native to here can be called alien species, introduced species, or exotic species. Ones that have developed a stable wild population and are causing harm to the local ecosystem are called invasive species. Introduced snakes and huge monitor lizards may sound scary to most people. But in fact, cats could do much more harm. Studies found each feral cat kills an average of 576 native birds, reptiles, and mammals per year.

Even those that are not causing significant harm to nature but to human health, other valued resources, or the economy are called invasive species.

How did they end up here?

There are 3 major ways exotic species could possibly go into our natural environment:

  1. Released or escaped pets
  2. Released or escaped food animals
  3. Coming along in shipping containers

Most environmentalists would tell you most of the invasive species are escaped or released pets. I don’t know why they say that without any numbers. It may be easy to link them together when you see all these exotic species in the wild and you see the same species in the pet trade. But, hold on a second, scientists and experts shouldn’t make assumptions.

The exotic pet trade really is to blame?

Not to say that there are no escaped or released pets, there sure are, but the number should be way smaller than those from either of the other ways.

I’m not a fan of linking animals and money together. Actually this is the very last thing I want to talk about. But in regard to this matter, it is really about money, directly. So, there’s a price for every exotic pet in the trade. For some reason when exotic pet owners can’t help but have to get rid of their pets, they could sell them for money instead of releasing them for nothing. There are very few species with a greater supply than demand, usually the low-priced ones such as Red-eared sliders. The majority of exotic pets are easy to sell. They are exotic pets because they are exotic. If they are everywhere, no one wants them. Then they will be eliminated and not be imported to the market anymore. This is how the exotic pet trade works.

If I had to elaborate I would come up with a question on my mind, “Is the feral cat doing less harm to our local species than all the exotic pets combined if let’s say somehow they all went into the wild?” I don’t know. I would be more optimistic if the answer was yes. If cats have been pets for such a long time and not much awareness of it was raised then having exotic pets doesn’t sound like such a huge issue as the environmentalists and organizations claimed to be.

On the other hand, I see a much larger number of exotic animals from the food markets and imported goods going into the wild.

Escaped or transported by accident

There have been a number of times that live animals from food markets escaped by accident and went to the wild. Years ago there were hundreds of smuggled adult monitor lizards being abandoned in broken wood crated while the smugglers running away from the customs and police. That’s only one of the many similar incidents.

Small animals can be hitchhikers! Geckos, skinks, other small lizards, insects, and arachnids can come together with imported wood, plants, furniture, fruits, vegetables, cars, and many other imported items. They hide very well inside and easily join in the shipment.

Released on purpose – the worst “good deed”

There is also this “mercy release” practice – a ritual that religious organizations free animals bought mainly from food markets. The animals set free are mostly non-native, wild-caught species of all kinds: Whatever live seafood they can buy, insects, bullfrogs, toads, turtles, lizards, snakes, birds, and mammals, HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of them at a time, every week! They even listed all the lives they set free and how much they spent on them on the news with a happy face. One single random believer can easily spend 500k HKD every month buying off anything alive from the markets for releasing in the wild.

But the thing is, they have been flushing freshwater animals down the sea, pouring seafood in drinking water reservoirs, setting land tortoises free in the water, etc. How amazingly wrong! Oh no, hold on, it’s actually better than that if they were released in more suitable habitats and could live, thrive, and possibly harm our local species. Umm. I’m speechless. This is the very few times in life I have to say I’d rather those animals not make it..

LIZARDS

Asian water dragon (Physignathus cocincinus)

The Asian water dragon has a long history of living here. I first found them in the wild in the early 80s. My uncles spotted them back in the 60s.

Asian water monitor (Varanus salvator)

Whether if the Asian water monitor is a native or introduced species is not confirmed. But many believe it is an introduced species. Some cousins of this species have also been spotted in the wild such as the yellow-headed or Philippine water monitor (Varanus cumingi).

TURTLES

Over 10-12 species of freshwater turtles can be found in the wild in Hong Kong. Only 5 species are native. All the rest are introduced such as:

  • Yellow pond turtle (Mauremys mutica)
  • Chinese stripe-necked turtle (Ocadia sinensis)
  • Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)
  • Alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii)
  • Common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
Chinese box turtle (Cuora flavomarginata)
Amboina box turtle (Cuora amboinensis)

The Chinese box turtle and Amboina box turtle are commonly available in food markets.

BIRDS

Introduced birds include:

  • Rock pigeon (Columba livia),
  • Asian emerald dove (Chalcophaps indica),
  • Rose-ringed parakeet (Psittacula krameri),
  • Azure-winged magpie (Cyanopica cyanus),
  • House crow (Corvus splendens),
  • Huet’s fulvetta (Alcippe hueti),
  • Silver-eared mesia (Leiothrix argentauris),
  • Common myna (Acridotheres tristis)
Critically endangered Yellow-crested cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea)

Yellow-crested cockatoo – Hong Kong Governor Sir Mark Aitchison Young released them before surrendering Hong Kong to the Japanese in 1941.

MAMMALS

Introduced mammals include:

  • Feral domestic cat,
  • Feral domestic dog,
  • Feral domestic ox,
  • Feral domestic water buffalo,
Macaque
Pallas’s squirrel

Monkeys and squirrels were introduced, too.

Natural Selection

Animal migration happens in birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and crustaceans all around the world, naturally. Whether it is natural catastrophes or man-made disasters, it is not something new. Non-native species occupying a local environment and stealing resources from local species sounds familiar, huh? Homo sapiens has been doing this for 3 million years. Natural selection itself can evolve, too, into a modern form.

Categories
Africa Me Turtles

Wild Ploughshare Tortoise Is The Rarest Species I’ve Ever Found

Today is Endangered Species Day. (瀕危物種日)

The rarest animal I’ve ever found was the Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis). Only around 20 of them are in the wild. But that’s a subspecies of leopards. In terms of a full species, this is the rarest one in my experience.

Let me introduce the most endangered species I’ve ever found in the wild – the Ploughshare Tortoise of Madagascar.

It is also called Angonoka tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora).

Those big organizations will only tell you about the tigers, rhinos, marine mammals, etc. Probably it’s all about marketing which I have zero idea about.

Let me do something for this species which is TONS more endangered. Help me share this and spread the love before it goes extinct which could happen tomorrow or any day.

If you know of anyone on earth who’s ever seen one of these tortoises in the wild, definitely let me know!

Categories
Me

What Sort Of Naturalist Am I?

naturalist
/ˈnatʃ(ə)rəlɪst/
noun
1. an expert in or student of natural history.
2. a person who practises naturalism in art or literature.

1. Yes, I studied the natural history of animals
2. Umm.. depends

Already too much compromise living in a society where getting your own body naked outside is a misbehavior. Born naked. Gone naked. I never sleep clothed.

Categories
Africa Me

Big Cats Roaming Freely In The Wild May Not Always Be The Lucky Ones

Everyone is talking about “Tiger King”. Now you probably have an idea how big cats are kept in captivity. You may think that they could have a better life if they were in their natural habitats. I have spent a lot of time in Africa, and I did not always see a paradise.

This is a lucky one rescued from canned hunting (being kept in a confined, fenced-in area for trophy hunting which is surprisingly legal in some African countries). ⠀
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I don’t know what to say. Nowadays we can’t just seem to tell our kids it’s okay to do anything they like as long as it’s not illegal. There are so many ridiculously wrong activities that are legal, such as canned hunting as an entertainment or a sport. ⠀⠀
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Legality is not a guide for morality.

Categories
HK

Hong Kong Wildlife You May Encounter On A Hike

Hikers “saving” baby owls from naturally predated by a snake was publicly praised by pet welfare groups and “animal lovers” because the baby owl looks innocent and the snake looks evil?

I believe most hikers have a good heart. Many are good pet owners. But they may want to learn a bit more about how wildlife works. Here’s my 2¢.

COVID-19 has brought tons of city people to hiking trails all of a sudden. Good for them. But for the environment, the negative impact is escalating.

Hong Kong is small but surprisingly rich in biodiversity. This small concrete jungle has the world’s largest owl, the most trafficked mammal, the second-largest lizard, and all that.

Native species of Hong Kong I mentioned in this video:
今天我們探討的是香港本土的物種:
Flatid planthopper, White moth bug, Lawana imitata
白蛾蠟蟬
Giant golden orb-weaving spider, Nephila pilipes
斑絡新婦, 人面蜘蛛
Changeable Lizard, Calotes versicolor
變色樹蜥
Bamboo pit viper,  White-lipped pit viper, Trimeresurus albolabris
青竹蛇, 竹葉青
Chinese three-striped box turtle, Golden coin turtle, Cuora trifasciata
三線閉殼龜, 金錢龜
Green sea turtle, Chelonia mydas 
綠海龜
Hong Kong Newt, Paramesotriton hongkongensis
香港瘰螈
Spotted narrow-mouthed frog, Kalophrynus pleurostigma
花细狹口蛙
Red-billed blue magpie, Urocissa erythroryncha
紅嘴藍鵲
Eurasian eagle-owl, Bubo bubo
雕鴞
Malayan porcupine, Hystrix brachyura
馬來箭豬
Chinese pangolin, Manis pentadactyla
穿山甲
Dusky frillgoby, Bathygobius fuscus
深鰕虎魚
Japanese eel, Anguilla japonica
日本鰻 
Hong Kong camellia, Camellia hongkongensis
香港茶 
Bauhinia x blakeana, Hong Kong orchid tree
洋紫荊 

Related: My encounters with Hong Kong Wildlife

See also: Aliens species in Hong Kong

Categories
Me

The Most Misunderstood Hairstyle

They say dreadlocks are ghetto. They say guys with long hair and beard are homeless. They say reptiles are lowlifes. They call others lower to make themselves sound like upper.

They keep mocking and laughing at you until you show them how bright you’re shining. Matter of fact, I couldn’t even care less. Didn’t even care to show. They just couldn’t get their eyes off and pick up their jaws from the floor. Stereotyping is dated.

Hairs are versatile. Don’t restrict them for what the society tells you. Losing yourself in the moment you own is the subtle art of giving zero fig.

Could’ve easily cut my hair and made myself look “decent” and prevent every mother’s son of em from eyeballing and commenting on my real, natural hair. But it’s about one’s rights and freedoms. The irony is that people who amputate naturally growing body parts criticize the few who preserve and cultivate the most radically given gift.

Ain’t no compromiser. Letting my hair go natural. A lion without his man is a kitten. Locs can run wild yet classy. If you don’t see the naturalness check your eyes, if not brain.

Categories
HK Me

A Full Newspaper Page Of Me Today

Categories
Africa Americas Snakes

Why Kobe Bryant is called Black Mamba but The Snake is Not Black

One of my closest Black Mamba encounters in Ethiopia

Why did Kobe Bryant choose Black Mamba when there are cobra, viper, rattlesnake, tiger snake, krait, and 600 other venomous snakes in the world?

Let me recap a few cool things about this snake probably most people didn’t know:

Why “Black” Mamba When It’s Not Black?
Its body is not black but olive, yellowish-brown, khaki or gunmetal. It has a coffin-shaped head. When this coffin opens shows an unusually dark bluish-grey to nearly black mouth. Most other snakes have a regular pinkish mouth.

The Most Venomous?
No, the Black mamba is not the most venomous snake. Actually far from it. It’s only the 53rd most venomous snake in terms of toxicity of venom (0.264). ‭That is 264‬ times weaker than the most venomous snake (0.001).

The Largest?
No, the Black mamba is a very long snake (up to over 14 feet) but is still much smaller than the king cobra, not to mention the pythons and anaconda.

Eats Big Prey?
Not at all. It mainly feeds on small birds, bats or rodents that weigh only less than 6% of its body mass.

Then Why So Deadly?
It’s the speed. The Black Mamba is the fastest snake on earth. Even though its venom is far from the most toxic ones but still its bite can kill a human in less than 30 minutes.

I find this species harder to catch and handle than most other venomous snakes especially when in trees. Deadly offense and unbeatable defense at the same time. I’d say encountering/catching a King Cobra is a deadly experience. But when it comes to a Black Mamba in tree, IMHO, it’s an even worse nightmare…

Categories
Africa

Redemption Song Of My 2 Months In Madagascar

Categories
Africa HK

My Accomplishments in 2018

A lot has happened this year. To the now me, 2017 is so five years ago.

January & February

Kenya- Went on a decent, British colonial style safari which was not quite typical of me.

Uganda- Found and got up close and personal with a band of wild Mountain Gorillas up to 400+ lbs. and they literally grabbed my leg.

Uganda- Face to face with the biggest shoebill I’ve seen.

Uganda- Spent a fortune in World’s no. 3 poorest country – paid directly to local people for the products they made barehand.

Kenya- Took care of orphaned rhinos, elephants, lions and cheetahs. Gave each of them a sweet hug.

March

Kenya- Witnessed death of the World’s last male northern white rhino.
Not an accomplishment but a heart-breaking moment that lest we forget.

Hong Kong- My Tesla turned 1 year old. I helped save the environment by not burning 2,500 liters of fuel in a year. Zero-emission, no noise, no heat, too.

April

Hong Kong- New milestone for wildlife education where Jurassic Garage started getting more invites from local Chinese schools. While we have been being invited to international schools every month for the last decade, local schools is a new area for us to spread education to a much wider community.

May

I have proudly become a character in a new book by Marianne Andersen.

June

Been putting a bunch of critters on Coco Chiang (蔣怡)’s naked body for a maternity shoot to promote appreciation of cold-blooded animals. Her baby was born merely a few hours after the shoot.

August & September

Madagascar- 183 wild chameleon findings.

Madagascar- Got robbed by AK-47ers during a road trip.

Madagascar- Ultimate herpetological goal achieved- Finding wild Ploughshare tortoises!!! There’s an “S” after the word tortoise.

Madagascar- Free climbed a big fat baobab barefoot.

Madagascar- Spent a fortune in the World’s ninth poorest country – paid directly to local people for the products they made barehand.

Indian Ocean- The oldest animal I’ve ever met. 200+ years old Giant Tortoises.

December

Hong Kong- My first wildlife themed restaurant launched in Central. I named it Animojo. Not only a first for me, but it’s also a brand new concept to the market combining the promotion of conservation and moral dining experience together. After months of antenatal care, my first baby was born at the littest spot in Central.

Categories
Africa

When Kong Boy Meets Kong Band

Kong boy is me (Hong Kong).

Kong band is a group of gorillas (not the British virtual band but a group of gorillas is called a band).

I’m going to share my Kong moment – The biggest animal I’ve touched in the wild in 2018 was the Silverback Mountain Gorilla of Uganda! I also bear hugged the “more common” lions, rhinos, and elephants I worked with but they were in sanctuaries so the wild Gorilla is my biggest wild beast of the year. And, I didn’t hug him. He hugged me! Too ginormous bucket list encounter not to share.

So I went on my expedition to Uganda earlier this year in the search of the real-life King Kong. Not the extinct giant ape Gigantopithecus but the largest extant primate – the Eastern Gorilla.

It is much rarer than the western gorilla. There are 2 subspecies – Eastern lowland gorilla and Mountain gorilla. In Uganda, we can possibly find the much rarer subspecies, the Mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), if we’re lucky.

Before you can try your luck searching for gorillas, first you need to know where exactly to go. This subspecies is only possible to be found in 3 countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. They are more easily reached in Rwanda and DR Congo. But in Uganda, there is something else I like more. It’s even more raw and real. In here I chose to climb up to over 8,000 feet above sea level in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park situated along DR Congo border.

My armed guide and I spent hours climbing and finding a number of chameleons and other reptiles. They’re very interesting but we had to keep going as there’s not much time to find the gorillas before it’s dark.

Categories
Africa

The Rarest in Madagascar

The Ploughshare tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora), or Angonoka tortoise, may look like just any tortoise to most people. But if you know a bit about reptiles you would realize this is the number 1 rarest tortoise in the world. It is also one of the top 10 rarest animals on earth – significantly rarer than the giant panda.

This species is always number 1 on my list of wild animals I wish to encounter in Madagascar. Finally, after decades, I have achieved this ultimate goal. I found the Angonoka!

Throughout the past decades, from time to time, I’ve seen a number of juvenile to sub-adult Ploughshare tortoises in captivity, from high-end black market which is the main threat of the species. I’ve also seen a few in sanctuaries I used to work with. It already gave me goosebumps seeing real ones in captivity. I was always hoping to find a wild one since teenage. However, like over 99% of people in the world, I had never got a chance to encounter a wild Ploughshare tortoise and it remained my ultimate herpetological goal.

Categories
Africa Lizards

Chameleons in Madagascar I Encountered

In my last 6-week trip to Madagascar, I have been to most of the districts in the country except the extreme north such as Nosy Be where I already visited a few times in the past. I went on field trips every day (and night). There have been 183 chameleons in my findings. Here I’m collecting highlight photos of some of the chameleons I found during the herping trips.

If you will be visiting Madagascar for wildlife you will never miss the chameleons. There are about 202 known species of chameleons in the world, while 89+ of them are endemic to Madagascar. The rest of the family mainly hail from sub-Saharan Africa. Malagasy species are classified into 3 genera: Calumma,  Furcifer, and Brookesia.

Categories
HK

Talking Animals on Radio

Haven’t been on radio for a while and yesterday I talked about my previous trip to Madagascar and especially the precious encounter with the Plougshare tortoise.

I also talked about the animal educational program we have been running for a while.

Big shoutout to Annalie chow from RTHK 3 for inviting me and letting my voice go on air 100% unedited.

2018-11-14 “1 2 3 Show” RTHK Radio 3

Categories
Africa Amphibians

Frogs in Madagascar I Encountered

Frogs are the only amphibians in Madagascar. There are no toads, salamanders, newts, or caecilians.

Malagasy painted mantella (Mantella madagascariensis)

Categories
Africa Lizards

Lizards in Madagascar I Encountered

There are over 300 species of lizards in Madagascar. During the trip, I’ve come across countless lizards that were mostly Chameleons, Leaf-tailed geckos, and Day geckos.

Other than these 3 popular types of lizards, there had been some
lesser-known species I found that are no less interesting.

Three-eyed lizard (Chalarodon madagascariensis)

One of the 8 species of Malagasy iguanas. It is also called Malagasy collared lizard. I found them in Ifaty (south) and Morondava (west).

Categories
Africa Lizards

Day Geckos in Madagascar I Encountered

Phelsuma is a genus of geckos mostly found in Mauritius and Madagascar. Day geckos are especially easier for me to spot than other geckos not only because of their bright green color but also their unusually diurnal behavior. I found them not only in the field but also in many of the rooms I stayed just like house geckos.

Madagascar giant day gecko (Phelsuma grandis)

Categories
Africa Lizards

Leaf-tailed Geckos in Madagascar I Encountered

Uroplatus is a genus of geckos, commonly known as leaf-tail geckos, which are endemic to Madagascar. If you think chameleons are experts at camouflage I’d say the leaf-tailed geckos are the masters of camouflage. At some point, they could be at the same difficulty level to spot in the jungle as stick insects. Not only does their tail resemble a leaf, most of their body parts are exactly like tree branch textures. Locals describe them as “half plant, half animal”. Luckily I have found a number of them during my trip to Madagascar.

Giant leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus fimbriatus)

Categories
Africa Mammals

Lemurs in Madagascar I Encountered

Indri (Indri indri)

Once upon a time, there were extinct lemurs as big as gorillas. Today, the Indri is the largest extant lemur species. But it is critically endangered, too.

Categories
Africa Mammals

Mammals in Madagascar I Encountered

Most of my sightings of mammals in Madagascar are lemurs, obviously. I’d put them in another post – Lemurs in Madagascar I Encountered

Lemurs are attractive but I wouldn’t forget that there were many interesting and lesser-known mammals I encountered in Madagascar.

Lesser hedgehog tenrec (Echinops telfairi)

Surprisingly, the tenrecs are related to sea cows and elephants but not hedgehogs! They look largely similar to hedgehogs of mainland Africa as a result of convergent evolution. Don’t judge an animal by its look. This species is endemic to the southern and southwestern parts of Madagascar. I found most of the tenrecs in Ifaty, southern Madagascar.

Categories
Africa

Aye-aye, Devil of Madagascar

This is one of the Aye-ayes (Daubentonia madagascariensis) I found in Madagascar. They are lemurs but quite a different one. Despite their large body size, the Aye-ayes took me a lot longer to find than other lemurs.

It means death when its elongated middle finger points at someone, locals believe. The Aye-aye would scare the poop out of most (even local) people if they encounter one at night in the woods. But for me, I was feeling soooo lucky and blessing that I got a chance to encounter with the most bizarre-looking animal on the island.


I can’t think of any other creatures that would be a better fit for me to share on Halloween. The title of “Devil of Madagascar” is the reason why most of the Aye-ayes got killed by local people. Comparing to poaching or game hunting, this kind of killing is even more ridiculous. I’ve told every Malagasy people I met about this wrong belief and most of them understood and agreed not to kill them anymore.

Categories
Africa

Baobab and Tortoise Symbiosis

The largest succulent and the most trafficked tortoise.

So old, so slow, yet (probably) not too wise.

The other night with the full moon, I was there in the extreme south of Madagascar watching these 2 symbolic Malagasy creatures living in harmonic symbiosis. I was sitting next to both of them all night and loving them both, like a triangle.

Both the Radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) and Baobabs (Adansonia sp) have been living a slow-paced life for 88 million years, which city people are recently getting to understand.

Not only are these creatures slow, but they are also stubborn as w(h)ell. They’d stick with their lifestyle despite the fact that the force of uptempo pace from the outside world had arrived in such remote “natural” habitats. The title of critically endangered species ain’t no scare any feces outta’em. They’d rather not change to fit in.

The extinction of a species could be normal. However, it seems it’s happening over 1,000 times faster than it’s supposed to.

Categories
Africa

I Climbed up a Big Fat Baobab

To celebrate my encounter with the super rare Ploughshare tortoises in Madagascar, I decided to free climb the biggest baobab in the area barefoot.

These chubby beauties are straight and surprisingly smooth. Baobabs are so much harder to climb than most trees. I still ain’t sure how I managed to climb up so high. I was feeling like a lizard.

Not only are the fruits superfood, but the baobabs are also beneficial to humans in hundreds of ways. But like most of the creatures in Madagascar, these trees are facing extinction, too. Mighty, yet fragile.

Categories
Africa

My Oldest New Friend The Aldabra Giant Tortoise

200+ years old is the age of this tortoise I was told. It might be exaggerated but still, I think this is the oldest animal I have ever met. I had to check history books to imagine how the world was like when this old folk was a 3-inch small hatchling.

Giant tortoises are proven the longest-living land animals and the longest-living reptiles, with the oldest recorded at 152.

The Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) is the world’s largest tortoise, together with the Galapagos tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra).

This Aldabra giant tortoise is the most baby-faced old folk I’ve ever encountered. My fisheye lens even helped me to magnify the cuteness which seems like a good way to let more people appreciate these long-lived, peaceful animals. Despite the very long, tough journey before reaching their natural habitat, they’re among the easiest animal for me to photograph.

We indeed ought to keep them away from unnatural harm because our ancestors massacred and eliminated at least 35 species and subspecies of their ancestors (giant tortoises) within a very short period of only 250 years. Now, the Aldabra tortoise of the Aldabra Atoll is the only species left in islands of the Indian Ocean.

Categories
Americas Asia

Not All Alligators Are Americans

“Alligator or crocodile?” is hardly an easy game to play even for reptile lovers. The difference of the shape of snouts is not too obvious. Convergent evolution might be a bit too hard to understand. Most people’s idea is that alligators are the ones in the US and the rest are all crocodiles. Some even think that both are the same animals with different names in American and British English.

I guess it’s safe to say that the word alligator sounds American. As a matter of fact, the origin of the name is more from Spanish. Every time when I mentioned the Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis) my American friends would be shocked to learn the fact that the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is not the only alligator in the world. Indeed, there are two species of alligators in the world.

The Chinese alligator, also known as the Yangtze alligator (揚子鱷), is not only critically endangered but also a very little known species, comparing to its more common American cousin. In Chinese, alligator and crocodile share the same word. Thus, there’s no such trouble telling apart alligators from crocodiles in China.

Categories
Lizards

Why Do Some Lizards Have Forked Tongues?

Animals tongues are much more useful than humans!

Red tegu

Different Shapes of Tongues

Most of the lizards have short and round tongues. Chameleons have elongated, extrudable tongues yet not forked. The only lizards with a serpent-like forked tongue are the carnivorous ones of a larger size in family Varanidae (Monitors, goannas, Komodo dragon) and Teiidae (Tegus, whiptails, caiman lizards).

Northern caiman lizard

How Do Their Tongues Work?

Snakes and some lizards rely on flicking out their tongues to collect environmental information. Every flick receives odors and miniscule moisture particles floating in the air. When the tongue is back into their Jacobson’s organ the collected data will be processed and converted into a 3D image resembling the surrounding environment.

Komodo dragon

Why Better Split?

Being forked in the tip helps them tell objects on the left from the right. The difference is the lizards forked tongues are way longer than snakes. Lizards have higher mobility with heads higher up above ground hence the longer tongues help to reach the ground for the smell of earth.

Lace monitor
Categories
HK

Beauty and the Beast Maternity Shoot With Coco Chiang

Putting a bunch of creepy crawlers on a professional model, actress, and cordon bleu chef Coco Chiang (蔣怡)’s naked body for a maternity shoot may sound crazy but is part of what we do. What is crazy to me is that her baby was born merely a few hours after the shoot!

Huge shout out to Coco for showing so much appreciation, love, courage, and respect to my cold-blooded, scaly buddies of all sorts. It’s a big success! Beautiful inside out.

When you can have good celebrities involved in the promotion of conservation, it works way more efficiently.

Categories
HK

I Am a Fictional Character

I have become a character in this new book – ‘The Golden Age‘ by Marianne Andersen.

How amazing! And I just realized that I am the only character based on a real person! This is when I collected this very perfect copy together with author autograph. Parents and educators, you must check out this upcoming book. It is about a kid’s imagination and journeys in Hong Kong.

Categories
HK

My Tesla Turned One

Other than animals, just like most big boys, I love cars.

Almost every expedition I went on I needed 4×4 vehicles, from Jeep Wrangler to Land Rover to G-Wagon. Back in town, having a G63 as daily driver and a Lambo for track days is just adrenaline pumping dream.

However, all of the mentioned vehincles have that one thing in common I had to forget about. No, not the price tag. It’s fuel consumption.

No matter how much fun these rides are, I decided not to use them any more, at least not as daily drivers.

So one year ago I bought a Tesla for daily driver to replace my Land Rover. Since then, my motorhead friends never texted me. Despite the fact that Tesla is even quicker than most of the latest Ferrari models, gas car owners tend to disagree. But this is what’s unique about Tesla. If you don’t own a Tesla, you are most likely a hater.

Even my PR crew suggested that I should avoid mentioning my car as it’s a luxury item which would be in conflict with my conservation work. I disagree. To me, Tesla is never anything luxurious but a transport option which is noiseless and zero-emission people use to help reduce pollution. Not to mention safe and fast.

Anyways, what I have achieved matters more than empty words – I helped save the environment by not burning 2,500 liters of fuel in a year.

My Tesla turned 1 year old. I hadn’t visited a gas station for 1 year. 20,000 km of pure electric mileage was done. That would have burnt approximately 2,500 liters on my previous daily driver, a Land Rover, which had a fuel consumption of 8 km/l.

Categories
Africa Mammals

World’s Last Male of This Rhino Dies

Kenya

So long, Sudan!

As a dinosaur fan when I was a kid, co-existing with some still living triceratops on earth inside the timeline of my life was hope, heuristic and what made me go on. But now I’m grown and I’ve learned more. It just leaves tears.

After Suni died 4 years ago, Sudan became the last surviving male Northern white rhinoceros in the world. And he died yesterday in Kenya at the age of 45.

The remaining of the subspecies are 2 females, daughter and granddaughter of Sudan. Although Sudan had his sperm frozen and stored and cloning may sound like an option, the subspecies will still probably have to be declared extinct following the West African black rhino and Vietnamese Javan rhino which were both declared extinct 7 years ago.

All of the rhinos gone extinct human witnessed were subspecies. The African rhino that is closer to a full species extinction is the Black rhino.

Just in case if you didn’t know, as the media coverage is mainly on the African species, the rhinos which are facing much more critical situations are the Asian species. There are around 25,000 African rhinos left. Less than 4,000 Asian rhinos are left where the Javan rhino (full species) being one of the most endangered mammals on earth. 2 out of 3 subspecies of the Javan rhino have gone extinct. The last subspecies (Indonesian Javan rhino) population is estimated at around 63 left. The most endangered subspecies of rhino is the Bornean rhino which only around 15 individuals left in total.

Rhinoceros have lived on earth for over 25 million years. Having experienced them gone extinct one by one during merely 7 years within our human lives is just plain devastating, irrecoverably.

Categories
Africa Birds

Face to Face with the Biggest Shoebill

No, it’s not the bill you pay for your Air Jordan.

The shoebill (Balaeniceps rex) or whalehead, is a very large stork-like bird. This is one I’ve come across in Uganda. In front of such a prehistoric looking creature with a wingspan of over 8 feet, you better stay low like what I did in the photo. It’s not that we should be scared of them. That’s respect.

Categories
Africa

Typical Safari Is Not Typical of Me

I just went on a decent, British colonial style safari watching the big five in Maasai Mara, Kenya.

Such a typical safari for some who’s been working with wild animals for decades. Why did I feel brand new? It’s because it’s not hands-on. My eyes had plenty to see but my hands had nothing to grab. Oh right, cameras.

Trying new things feels good. Not of my major interest but I did know how to enjoy the journey and got inspired.

I did tons of photos, though. Here’s one. More to add later.

Categories
Americas

Two Heads One Body

Siamese, conjoined and polycephaly mean the different conditions of more than a head or some parts of the body. It’s more like twins in progress but never completed. Two-headed humans are mostly identified as two persons. But for animals, it’s still under debate whether they should be considered one or two beings.

Categories
Americas Asia Lizards

Jesus Christ Lizard

There are over 10,000 extant species of reptiles. How many have you seen? There are only two lizards known to be able to run on water. This earned the renowned Basilisk of the new world the nickname “Jesus Christ lizard”.

From the old world, there’s this lesser-known Sailfin Dragon that evokes even more of my interest. Its Latin name Hydrosaurus says it all. They inhabit rainforests and can run across the river like a jet boat. Firstly described almost 250 years ago but not much has been known so far. I’ve had such a privilege to be able to handle such a beautiful adult Sailfin Dragon. Life is good.

Categories
Americas HK

From Big Game Tragedy In Ohio To Legal Killings In Hong Kong

After the fire that kills 3,000 high-end top quality snakes in a reptile facility in Colorado merely a month ago, now there is another heart breaking loss in Ohio.

R.I.P. to the 50 animals killed in Ohio. 18 highly endangered Bengal tigers, 17 lions, bears, gray wolves, and more were shot to death by the Sheriff’s deputies in Zanesville, Ohio on Wednesday after the owner of an exotic farm threw their cages open and committed suicide.

The media and animal welfare organizations are all aiming at the state regulations of dangerous exotics possession but my first question was why would they have to kill them all instead of tranquilizing? It is well understood that their job is to ensure public safety and for the deputies tranquilizer darts are not as easy to practice as shooting to death like big game. Not saying it is a fault, but there were better options.

Those animals are infamously built for the ability of taking out a human, although the possibility of them killing someone is in fact very low. The tragedy in Ohio was sad but the holocaust was somehow unblamable. But right here in Hong Kong there have been many animals being killed unnecessarily. The wild animals in here considered dangerous are mostly snakes. We do have native venomous snakes in here but in fact they are way less dangerous to people than what they are known for. I have often seen tiny little snakes being smashed to death in order to “ensure public safety” but many times those were non-venomous. Another times there were issues of wild boars attacking people then authorities allowed legal hunting. They can attack but after all they are just pigs. They don’t kill people.

Most times the authorities like to tackle problems and avoid responsibilities the easiest way for them but that is definitely the worst way. In a metropolis like Hong Kong, animals would never like to attack humans until they are forced to. Killing only generates hate. Killing endangered animals is even the worst sin that no one is able to compensate.