A Walk in the Black Forest …

… no, not that Black Forest – this one was only black because it was dark, very dark.

It was a night walk held at the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia, and our volunteer guide was a self-confessed snake addict.  Here he is holding his special snake stick –

– I thought it was for prodding and beating snakes to keep them away, but it’s actually for catching snakes so that you can hold them, caress them, and lovingly take endless photos of them – as we soon discovered.

We saw quite a few creatures on our walk, but what we saw most of that night were leeches.  They were everywhere, dropping from trees onto us, clambering up over our shoes from ground level, determined to take a juicy bite.  When we shone a torch onto the ground the whole surface was moving like a bubbling pot – it was covered in writhing leeches.  As a result, we all became very twitchy, constantly brushing any exposed flesh to check for leeches, suddenly flicking a leg to the side to dislodge any potential blood-sucker, and prancing up and down on the spot whever the group stopped, trying to keep as little contact with the ground as possible.  I’m sure we all looked mentally disturbed as we wriggled, flicked and leapt in the air while we made our way around the forest.

Apart from leeches, we saw quite a few other animals, and I was impressed by our guide’s ability to spot a tiny creature in the dark and identify it immediately.

Like this spotted litter frog –

– which just looked like a stone on the ground until he picked it up and put it on a leaf for us to see.

Then I learnt all about eyeshine, which is fascinating.  To identify night creatures by eyeshine, you hold a bright torch under your dominant eye and look around.  If you see a small twinkling light reflected from your torch it’s a spider, and if you see a steady pale light, it’s a reptile.  Predators have red eye shine, and so does the slow loris, which was the only mammal we saw, hiding high up in a tree.  The quick loris had obviously scarpered as soon as it heard us approaching …

One of my favourites was the Malayan horned frog –

– which is also the symbol of the Malaysian Nature Society and featured on our guide’s t-shirt –

Although I have to say that the horned frog we saw looked a lot less pissed off than the one on the t-shirt.

Another favourite was Malaysia’s most poisonous frog, the poisonous rock frog –

– and this one has a cataract, as our guide noticed immediately.

Being a snake lover, he got very excited about this brown whip snake –

and the oriental vine snake –

– which he fearlessly patted from side to side to keep it on the leaf.

The walk finally ended at 1.50 a.m., while our guide was showing us this huge gecko –

– and he invited us all to feel the sticky pads on its feet that enable it to climb up vertical surfaces

Then he ended the walk with the unforgettable words, “I’ll have to put this gecko down now, I think I’ve got a leech in my pants.”

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