Friday, March 13, 2009

King Cobra

I could see moving to Chongzuo--the weather is nice enough, the food is delicious, and the wildlife can't be beat--if it weren't for the snakes.

The reserve's walking paths are lined with billboards warning visitors of king cobras and urging them to stick to the main paths. Like most people, though, I tend to take warning signs aimed at tourists with a grain of salt.

But just to be safe, I did some Googling the other day to find out just what these snakes are all about.

A children's educational website informs me that;
-The king cobra holds a record length of 5.58 m (18.3ft) for a venomous snake.
-It has a head as big as a man’s hand and can stand tall enough to look you straight in the eye.
-the king’s venom is actually less lethal than a common cobra’s. However, the king makes up for it by delivering more venom per bite...enough to kill an elephant or 20 people.

"Tigerhomes" notes;
-Nearly ALL snakes will avoid man…there are however snakes known to aggressively attack man such as the King Cobra of Southeast Asia…

Medicine On-Line weighs in with;
"The most common and earliest symptom following snake bite is fright, particularly of rapid and unpleasant death. Owing to fright, a victim attempts 'flight' which unfortunately results in enhanced systemic absorption of venom. These emotional manifestations develop extremely rapidly (almost instantaneous) and may produce psychological shock and even death."

And here, again from Medicine On-Line, is the kicker;

"On an average - cobras and sea snakes result in about 10% mortality [28]-ranging from 5-15 hours following bite."

I don't think I'll be straying from any paths again anytime soon...


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bulbuls, Wagtails, and Great Tits!

There is a saying about the people of southern China that they eat anything with four limbs except tables, anything that flies except airplanes, and anything that swims except ships.
Perhaps, but birding in southern China's Chongzuo EcoPark is nonetheless amazing!
Noisy flocks of red-whiskered bulbuls are found in spades in the reserve’s trees and tall grass. The birds remind me of the Steller's jays that steal French fries off the plates of unwary diners at Nepenthe in Big Sur, California.
The following images—courtesy of the Peking University Chongzuo Biodiversity Research Institute—are all birds I’ve seen here this past week.
red-whiskered bulbul above

common tailorbird

great tit

cattle egret

white breasted waterhen

white wagtail

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dr. Pan's Secret Lair

At first glance, the Chongzuo EcoPark, where biologist Pan Wenshi studies white-headed langurs, appears as timeless as a Chinese landscape painting. Rugged karst peaks shoot straight out of rice paddies and sugar cane fields tended by villagers and their water buffalo. It's a scene that seems little changed for thousands of years.

The reality, however, is much more interesting.

The Chongzuo EcoPark is a former military base that was in the process of being decommissioned when Pan first arrived thirteen years ago.
Few signs of the area’s military past remain except for a massive munitions storage depot carved into the middle of one of the reserve’s mountains.

Six-inch-thick steel reinforced cement doors guard the entrance to the now abandoned depot, but much of the inside remains a natural limestone cave.

On one side of the mountain the cave opens to a cliff face about 70 meters above the valley floor where a langur family roosts most nights. Pan's assistants—LiJun, JinTong, and Lin—recently drilled a couple of cameras into the cliff face for some close up observations.

The Chinese biologist is fascinated by sociobiology, the theory that certain social behaviors—such as the practice of infanticide by male langurs—are evolutionarily advantageous.

With these cameras—which connect to a tent-enclosed-desktop inside the cave—he hopes to unlock the secrets of the animal's monkey business.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Back in Chongzuo

I wrote a story last fall on Pan Wenshi—China's founding father of conservation biology—and the white headed langur, an endangered monkey he’s spent the past decade trying to save.

At the time, Pan told me I really should come back in late winter when the year’s newborns still have their bright, canary yellow fur. I knew that Pan and his students also do an annual census of the langurs through the winter months, so when the chance came for me to make a return visit, I jumped on it.

I’m now mid-way through a two-week stay at the Chongzuo Eco Park, a 24-square km nature reserve a stone’s throw from the Vietnam border in southern China. The very phrase Chinese-nature-reserve may sound like a complete contradiction of terms, but this tiny island of biodiversity—in a country that is admittedly otherwise choking on its own pollution—is absolutely breathtaking.

When Pan arrived here 13 years ago, locals were well on their way to poaching the last remaining langurs, felling what was left of their forest habitat for firewood, and blasting their mountain home into limestone quarries.

Over the past decade, however, he’s had phenomenal success working with surrounding villages to help bring them out of poverty and to foster in them an interest in wildlife protection. The end result has been rapid reforestation within the reserve and a five-fold increase in the langur’s population--including one really cute newborn that we’ve been watching the past few days.


Images of langur and reserve courtesy of Peking University Chongzuo Biodiversity Research Institute.