Tracking Snakes with the Bali Snake and Wildlife Rescue Organization

May 2016: On my way to Papua to seek out the Korowai tribe I had a layover in Bali for a few days. Sure, I could have relaxed on a beach side cottage having massages all day, but I decided it would be much more fun to go tracking king cobras with the Bali snake and wildlife rescue organization. I have always loved snakes and for me to be able to track a king cobra, the largest of all venemous snakes, was a dream come true. So, months before the trip I started reaching out to the organization to arrange for the tracking of wild king cobras and to also just tag along with them during their daily activities of responding to calls to capture venemous snakes in hotel grounds, or residential properties and then relocating them into the wild. In return, I would provide a donation to their organization for letting me tag along. I was to be paired up with a local Balinese man, Edi, who was dubbed the King Cobra whisperer. The man was a Balinese Steve Irwin. His love of conservation of all Balinese Wildlife especially snakes and King Cobras was unmatched and like Steve Irwin he was very enthusiastic about wildlife and was very hands on in his rescue efforts.  Sadly, a week before my arrival, the man was rescuing a king cobra and was bitten in the hand by accident. This wasn’t the first time he had been bitten either. But this time was different the hospitals he was rushed to were out of antivenom and by the time anti-venom was found it was too late. King Cobras are massive snakes growing up to 12′ long and can pump enough venom from a bite to kill an elephant. Even with anti-venom, the odds are not in your favor. Despite the loss of Edi, the Bali Reptile decided that Edi would want their work to go on and so some of Edi’s trainees took me under their helm for a few days in search of snakes. I arrived in Bali late via Brunei and the next morning I traveled with the Bali Rescue Organization to west Bali, a wilder part of the island with more jungle and more snakes.

 

 

About Bali

Map of Bali-West Bali is where I went to track King Cobras and East Bali is where I stayed during my first visit near Ubud and the moneky forest

Bali is unique because it is the only Hindu Island in what is otherwise a mostly Islamic nation. The Balinese practice Hinduism and the island is renowned internationally by vacation goers for its serenity, Hindu temples and architecture and easy going and welcoming culture. This was my 2nd visit. My first visit was in May 2013, with my friend Dan as art of a larger trip to visit Komodo island, East Timor and Kakadu, Australia. The highlight of the first visit was visiting the monkey forest of Ubud and watching wild monkeys terrorize unsuspecting tourists.

 

Dan and a wild Macaque monkey in Ubud Monkey Forest

Ubud Forest Wild Monkey

Monkey Forest Hindu Temple

Hindu Statue on beach

Hindu Ceremonial Cremation in the middle of a public street

Tracking Wild King Cobras

My friends from Bali Rescue and I went to some of the wild forest area where Edi used to look for King Cobras. The best season to find them is in November evidently, when they are almost guaranteed according to my guides. Not it was May when they are less likely but nonetheless, we tried. Since they do still find them in this area any time of the year, we still had a good chance. We walked through thicket, inspecting under trees and using a long stick to stir up brush and branches to see if anything moves. We followed streams since snakes typically stay near water where there is pray. King Cobras almost feed exclusively off of other large cobra species but do occasionally eat rodents, and lizards too. We searched for a few hours, but we didn’t find any King Cobras. The plan was to return and try again the next morning. My guides did want to show me a King Cobra, so they decided to visit Edi’s house, the tracker who just died recently from a King Cobra bite. Evidently Edi had some wild King Cobras in his house he was in the process of relocating away from villages into wilder parts of the island. In addition to the showing me the snakes, the guides wanted to check on Edi’s family to see how they were doing.

 

Playing with Cobras

i felt very awkward about visiting Edi’s house so near after his death but his friends insisted it was ok. But it really was awkward and extremely sad. His home was like a small outdoor zoo for exotic wild animals and snakes. There were lots of snakes. Edi was one of the leading voices educating villages in western Bali about wildlife conservation and villagers that would normally kill a potentially dangerous animal were calling him to relocate it instead or to help it heal after being wounded. Edi houses many of these animals until they could be returned to the wild. Many villagers were paying their condolences to Edi’s family during my visit. I met his wife and his young daughter. I thanked them for having me as a visitor and they were very gracious and polite despite their tremendous grief.  I explained to them that I am a huge fan of wildlife and conservation, and that Edi was a hero of mine. This caused Edi’s young daughter, who was a young teenager, to tear up. She later mentioned to me that when she grows up that she wants to follow in the footsteps of her dad and save the wildlife of Bali including snakes, which she said she is very fond of even though her dad died from a snake bite. I was told that Edi as he was passing away mentioned that he hopes no one will blame the cobra for his death. It was really heart breaking to observed the suffering of this family, especially the young daughter.

 

Balinese Villager

Balinese Boy

Small  macaque monkey, under the care of Edi’s family, abandoned in the wild when its parents were killed by a car

There were a few gigantic 10′ long king cobras in cages in Edi’s backyard. Edi was relocating them after they recovered from various injuries back into the wild. One of the released a deep guttural hiss at me when I neared the cage and was clearly not amused by my presence.  My guides asked me if I wanted to see one outside of the cage.  I was excited by this but reluctantly. Especially since we were in the house where Edi just died from a snake bite. But what happened next is something that only happens in small villages of countries like Indonesia. The guys managed to get the cobra into a sac inside of its cage and they carried the sac with cobra inside outside of the house to some kind of a grassy field where kids were playing soccer.  They released the king cobra into the field. Here we were taking our cobra for a walk in the village field. Some of the kids paused to come and watch but returned to playing soccer only 30 or so yards away. Villagers and bicyclists passed casting only a quick glimpse. One of the admitted that they were apprentices of Edi and that this was their first time handling a king cobra alone, but they wanted the practice even though they were very nervous. My goal was to get nowhere near the cobra. A King cobra can hold its head as high as a human can stand and strike with incredible speed and alertness. I made sure to give the magnificent creature a wide berth. The guys were not skillfully and on one occasion one of them stumbled and fell down when the cobra turned back towards him catching him off guard.  The look of terror flashed in his eyes for a moment as he thought he might get bit. But he was able to block the cobra’s pursuit with his iron snake handling rod. Finally, after a lot of effort and antagonization of the snake, the guys were able to get the snake back into the bag and into its cage again.

me behinnd the king cobra with the handling rod

My guide handling the king cobra

Mighty beast

Fierce eyes of a cobra

 Video of my guides handling the King Cobra in the park

Searching for More Snakes in the Jungle

Bali has some pockets of pristine rich tropical rainforest, and this is prime habitat for reptiles. I have visited rainforests all over the world and it is amazing how when on my own I rarely see snakes but when searching for them with a skilled local, I suddenly discover just how abundant snakes really are. We picked a rural farm with some jungle and went in pursuit of snakes in the afternoon and at night with just our flashlights. With the help of my guide who is an expert on detecting snakes, we spotted a snake literally every 5 minutes and because many were so camouflaged I had to really strain my eyes to spot them. Most were non-venemous but others were extremely deadly. But none were in the mood to attack and were quick to slither away upon detection.

 

Giant Gecko Lizard

Venemous Tree Viper at head level with me in a tree

Tree snake

Tree snake

Vine snake that was pretty docile and easy to hold

Deadly coral snake along the street in the gutter that even my guide was hesitant to get to close to. Not only is it deadly the way the poison kills is you is extremely gruesome and painful suposedly

Releasing a Sptting Cobra into the Wild

One of the guides was called to by a manager of a hotel to capture a spitting cobra that was terrorizing the guests. He had captured it before my arrival, and it was sitting in a cage in his house. He asked me if I wanted to go with him to release it into a wild jungle outside of town. I was all for the idea. The spiting cobra was small but for what he lacked in size he made up for in nastiness. He was mean and he could spit acidic venom that could blind a person. For this reason, my had goggles that we would wear around the snake. As soon as he opened the cage, it began hissing and spitting at him. He threw a thick sac around it, tied it into a knot and placed the snake in his backpack. We then hopped onto his moped, me holding on to him on the backseat, pressed up against the backpack with the spitting cobra enclosed. Together we drove an hour through various streets with the cobra before arriving down a dark jungle dirt road near some ancient Hindu temple by a stream. This he said is where we would release the snake. 

 

Balinese spitting cobra

Spitting cobra didn’t want to leave without a fight

By now it was night, and it was dark, so we were wearing flashlights on our heads. The Rescue worker opened the sac and released the spitting cobra before us. It didn’t slither off to its freedom. instead, it turned to us and hooded up facing us and hissing. Our goggles were on and for good reason because the little cobra spit venom from several feet away with amazing accuracy and some landed on my googles. The cobra was determined to stand and fight until we backed down. The rescue volunteer then insisted we turn our flashlights off because the snake was attracted to our light and would leave until we turned them off. I was a bit reluctant to be in complete darkness with a spitting cobra only feet away from me, but we did it. We turned off the light and 30 long seconds later when we turned on the light, the snake was gone.  Then I spent my last day relaxing in a beautiful cottage tucked away in a lush Balinese garden getting a massage in the garden by a rushing stream.

 

Lush garden at my guesthouse

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