Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tongan Humpback Whales - Mom and Calf Series

This is the second series of my Tongan Humpback Whales series.

I love meeting mom and baby and watching them interact with each other, and with us.

A mom that none of the crew has ever met may at first be overly cautious in allowing her baby to mingle with strange lookin' creatures like us.

But once we prove not to be a threat, she will in most cases stay put in one area and allow baby to swim to the surface to check out that paparazzi floatin'-log-impersonator (i.e us).

These series were taken when I was snorkeling alongside mom and baby. Mom and baby may look like they were taking their own sweet time, but believe me, I had to fin like mad just to keep up!

Once again, I'd like to thank Earthtrust and American Cetacean Societyfor enlightening us about the mating and breeding rituals of humpback whales.

For more information about these lovely creatures, click here :

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tongan Humpback Whales - Adaptive Radiation Series

I've never swum with a whale in my life, and I knew whales had to be next on my wish list!

Who better to look for than the Whale Man himself, Tony Wu! He and his expedition partner, Takaji together with the hospitable local crew, opened my eyes to what must be one of the most beautiful marine mammals to have swum this earth, next to dolphins of course. Every moment with these graceful creatures was absolute bliss.

During my recent trip to the island of Vava'u in Tonga, I took mostly videos, but managed to extract some pictures to share with other cetacean lovers (since videos are gonna take me forever to edit).

I'm not very good at picking out best of best photos, so I've decided to include several series of photos which tell a story of a moment in time that I spent with them.

For this series called "Adaptive Radiation", I'd like to thank earthtrust for enlightening us about the biology and natural history of humpback whales.

For more information about these lovely creatures, click here :

More whale series photos to come...

Monday, October 05, 2009

See the Cobra, Cobra de Capella...


This photo was taken eons ago when my parents brought me to the famous Snake temple in Bayan Lepas, south of Georgetown, Penang. The temple was build in the memory of Chor Soo Kong by a Buddhist monk who had immigrated to Penang and is known to have had healing powers. According to legend, Chor had given shelter to snakes when he lived in the jungle and the snakes which have entered the temple have never left to pay respect to Chor Soo Kong.

This is one of my favourite childhood shots! I thought it apt that I looked like one of them; having lost my 2 front teeth, hence emphasizing the fang-like canines.

Why on earth did I dig up this old photo? Well, coz today, I saw a cobra out in the wild, for the 2nd time in 4 months! Both times, I was walking Saskia (although today Tobes came along) so I'm beginning to think Sas was the lucky snake charm!

I wiki-ed Snakecharmer and extracted this little bitta info :

"The first task a would-be snake charmer must tackle is to get a snake. Traditionally, this is done by going out into the wilderness and capturing one. This task is not too difficult, as most South Asian and North African snakes tend to be slow movers. The exercise also teaches the hunter how to handle the wild reptiles. Today, however, more and more charmers buy their animals from snake dealers. A typical charmer takes in about seven animals per year.[citation needed]

The exact species of serpents used varies by region. In India, the Indian cobra is preferred, though some charmers may also use Russell's vipers. Indian and Burmese pythons, and even Mangrove Snakes are also encountered, though they are not as popular. In North Africa, the Egyptian cobra, puff adder, carpet viper and horned desert viper are commonly feature in performances.[citation needed] Except for the pythons, all of these species are highly venomous.[citation needed]

At home, snake charmers keep their animals in containers such as baskets, boxes, pots, or sacks. They must then train the creatures before bringing them out into public. For those charmers who do not de-fang their pets, this may include introducing the snake to a hard object similar to the pungi. The snake supposedly learns that striking the object only causes pain."

1. Given my track record in snake encounters, shouldn't be too hard to get me a snake, a cobra even!
2. I have lots of baskets, boxes and pots at home. Snake haven, I should say!
3. With dogs at home, it's best to de-fang the snake, especially since we don't want a repeat performance here (see video of dog fighting a cobra to save owner's life :
4. As for keeping the snakes calm, I read on the Snake Temple website that the smoke in the main prayer hall produced by the ginormous incense burner outside the temple supposedly paralyzes the snakes. The incentive to use incense!


I used to live in a house and we'd have the occasional snake visit in the garden, especially since my mom had an afro of a bamboo tree, which was supposedly a swinging hangout for s..s...snakes!

The most nerve-wrecking encounter I've had as a kid was shortly after I stepped into the bathtub to take a shower, I saw baby snakes slithering up the hole in the bathtub!!! Yikes!!! The perfect horror movie scene, don't you think? Actually, they were the size of giant earthworms, but I swear, they were the real cold-bloodied thang!

Since moving to the east, I'd expected to live in a very sanitised residential area with small pockets of green spaces. Never did I dream that right behind my apartment was a breeding ground for snakes!

Below, a map showing you the areas of my encounters with the no-legged kind!

Forgot to add that a few months back, my dog nanny walked the dogs to the green area behind my house ( very close to my first cobra sighting), and she freaked out after seeing what she thought was a crocodile on the loose! She said it was very, very big, and climbing up a tree! I suspect it was probably a monitor lizard, as this is a common case of mistaken identity!


Terence and Pauline, owners of Tobe's brother Axel, wanted to "borrow" Saskia for a morning walk with Axel. Given Axel's temperament, they felt that Saskia would have a calming effect on him, and would put him in his place if need be. Somehow, I didn't think so.

Anyway, I brought them (and Saskia) for a walk along the green lung area behind my house (the
jungle area between upper east coast road and the ECP).

The path was mostly grassy, flanked by tall vegetation on one side and the highway on the other, with pockets of birds nest fern under a canopy of trees.

We had to cross a makeshift wooden planked bridge surrounded by bordering tall grass to get to the other side of a drain.

As I approached the bridge, I looked down on the ground about a metre ahead of me and saw what looked like some old skinny black cycling tire on the trail.

And then, it started to move!

When I traced the tire to the other end, it suddenly reared it's diamond shaped hood!


I jerked Saskia away swiftly and pulled her towards me. Saskia was a few seconds ago mere inches away from that black rubber hose impersonator!

Phew! Close shave!

Terence and Pauline was wondering what all the commotion was about, til I pointed out the snake to them.

Upon closer inspection from afar, I realised I had approached it from behind...otherwise we could have been showered with venomous shock juice (maybe?).

It slowly lowered it's head, disappeared into the blades of grass, and by the movement of the grass, I guess it quietly slithered away.

I've heard of cobras and other snakes living within this area but I've never seen one in the numerous times that I've walked the dogs there.

When we moved to upper east coast, we found some old management committee notices about snakes coming within the confines of the condo area because of the wired fence. They eventually built a concrete wall to keep the snakes out.

In the last year, I've only seen a baby snake slittering around at the area near the ground floor lift. I knocked on the doors of those on the 1st floor to warn them, but most of the residents just thanked me in nonchalance.

Anyway, this was just my brush with nature at my doorstep!


Fearing for the safety of my sweet pooches, I haven't been back to area no 1 since, much to the chagrin of my doggies. Being outdoorsey dogs, they prefer grass to tarmac, offroad trails to road - just like their owners!

I tried to find the best off-road path for their morning walks where I could let them off-leash without causing any major disturbance to anyone. One of such paths starts off with a green bumpy field next to Parbury Hill Condominium. Perched on top of that field is a house which belongs to a very sweet lady who'd adopted a boxer, and recently a mastiff. She warned me about the snakes that roam on this field, and she's had the displeasure of killing the ones which entered her domain.

"Wear proper shoes, avoid tall grass, and watch every step that you're taking!", she advised.

Hmmm....where else can I bring them to where the grass is short? Aha! The big field right in front of Bedok Court! I will just avoid the dense jungles that is sandwiched between Bedok Rise and the Tanah Merah MRT station!

That field reminds me of a bigsplash for dogs! They have a "field" day just running on the grass (which seems to be well maintained), and the steep slopes there should give them a good work!

This morning, I brought them there and set them free. We are almost always the only ones there, except 2 days ago, an Indian man walking his black lab told me to look out for a cobra which was spotted a couple of days ago. The green field slopes upwards towards the houses along Jalan Limau , and it was along the offroad path surrounded by tall grass that the snake was spotted.

I made sure the dogs stuck to the parts of the field and slopes where the grass was short, and allowed them to frolic. I made them climb the hill several times by leading the way. On the third such attempt, I decided to take a route up the hill dotted with trees. I turned around and looked at how happy the dogs were.

"Born free as the wind blows...." was all I heard, while the dogs followed suit.

After reaching the 3rd tree and almost 2/3 way up, that's where I saw it....within a metre from me. It moved like a shadow in the day....smoothly but briskly... on dried grass as if floating on air!

Its hood was up but I doubt it saw me as it slithered right down towards this patch of tall grass on the field, the only part of the field which wasn't mowed (I wonder why?).

But it was also headed straight towards where Tobes and Sas were heeding to my call! Yikes!

I immediately called to them (in a tone that sounded angry yet urgent) and motioned for Tobes and Sas to move to the other side of the hill. They must have sensed that something was wrong, and ran up to meet me on the other side. Clip! You kids aren't safe here! I'd better bring you somewhere else!

They eventually ended up playing in the Lucky Gardens playground! How sad is that?


Ok, but jokes aside, I was pretty freaked out by the 2 incidents, not so much fearing for my own safety (although my hair almost stood on ends when I realised the beautiful black slithering creature was a cobra), but for fear of them attacking my poor defenseless doggies, or perhaps spitting into their eyes!

I think that with modernisation, we are slowly encroaching into the territory of what little existing wildlife that we have left in Singapore, and as much as I'd love for them to continue living with these venomous snakes, and wouldn't like to encroach on their territory more than I have to, I'd also like for my dogs to share these spaces.

Does anyone have any advice on what you should do once you see a cobra? And whether they are known to attack dogs? And what you should do if they do attack?

I went to google what sort of snake I'd encountered on both occasions, and I'm pretty sure it was the Equitorial Spitting Cobra :

"Equatorial Spitting Cobras are a front-fanged, venomous species which should be avoided. Though not aggressive in nature, these snakes can accurately spit a powerful neurotoxic venom into the eyes which can cause temporary blindness. The bite, however, can be fatal

There are two colour phases: a yellow form commonly found in Thailand, and a black form found in Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore.

This is a common species in older, more wooded residential areas of towns and cities in many parts of Southeast Asia, including Singapore. It preys on rats and frogs, and is active day and night."

Phew, it doesn't say "dogs"! But it says it's venomous, its bite can be fatal, and it is active day and night! What????? It could be lurking around 24x7!!!!

Perhaps I should take up the challenge of being a snake charmer, so I'll know how to hypnotise a snake when I see one!

But honestly, the world will be a better place if my doggies could live side by side with these snakes!

For interesting story about a dog and cobra drinking water from the same bowl, click here :-