Sunday, November 30, 2008

Farewell to rainforest animals

I'm counting down my last few days in Cape Tribulation, spending as much time as possible out in the jungle or on the beach while I still can. These final days here are proving to be a wildlife bonanza for me. I'd like to think the animals are showing themselves as a personal favour to me, but the truth is that this stifling heat at the end of the Dry season is a time when animals are very active: mating, nesting and whatever other mysterious animal motivations get them out in the open.

This cassowary crossing the intersection of Camelot and Cape Trib roads is on the cusp of adulthood. His big brown but is still in juvenile colours, but the rest of him is all grown up.

Driving in and out to town last week I saw nine cassowaries on the road in one day which may be some kind of Cape Trib record. Five of them were chicks, two I'd seen before with their dad, wandering aimlessly around the middle of the road while cars stopped to enjoy the sight. The other three chicks were tiny hatchlings, no bigger than chickens with their stripes still very distinct; it's very unusual to see three siblings, usually they come in pairs.

Tragically one of the adult cassowaries I saw that day had just been hit by a car, the third cassowary automobile fatality that I know of in the past two weeks (the others were at Mission Beach to the South). The cassowary wasn't dead yet when we drove past, but apparently the rangers have a policy of not trying to nurse them to health, as they are such difficult animals to care for. The people who had already stopped (presumably including the driver that hit it) looked as devastated as I felt to see it. This incident brought home to me how important it is to scare the cassowaries off the road when we see them, not stop and gawp, let alone feed them from cars, all of which just reinforces their lack of road-sense. There are only about a thousand of these amazing birds still alive, with only a fraction of their original habitat left and reamed with roads, we need to slow down and scare them away!

Last night I went on a guided night walk through the Cooper Creek Wilderness, and got to see lots of wildlife. Mostly insects and spiders, quite a few tree frogs, some sleeping birds and lots of Boyd's forest dragons. The forest dragons are the chilled out dudes of the night forest. Generally posed vertically on tree trunks, poised for hunting, we also saw many babies just hanging out on branches and twigs looking incredibly relaxed, their human-like hands clasped or drooping.

But what I really wanted to see was 'furry cuteness', and not just melomys (native mice) or (native) white-tailed rats who I interact with inside the house all too often (I caught a kitchen melomy in a plastic bag the other day). My wish came true near the end of the guided walk with two red legged pademelons, the only ground dwelling wallaby in the wet tropics rainforest. Furry cuteness embodied, click the link to see .

The python being pulled out of the chicken coop with its chicken-sized bulge clearly visible.

Our guide also pointed out a tiny but highly venomous Small Eyed Snake. Last weekend I came across two snakes all by myself. The first was an Amathystine Python curled up in a nesting box in the neighbour's chicken coop when I went to collect the eggs. The snake had already eaten a chicken. Lawrence Mason came over at my request and wrestled it out of the coop and into a pillow case. The Amathystine python is so named because of the beautiful irredescent sheen on its scales in the sunlight. I was struck by how vigorously muscular pythons are, this one really didn't want to be stuffed in a sack and twisted itself around and and around before Lawrence succeeded and took it away to relocate on a bit of the rainforest where he takes guided tours. In fact he let it out on the track just in front of a tour group. Later I heard how my python had heaved its chicken-bulge over a log before slithering off into the jungle to finish digesting.

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