Maldives 2014

Pictures from my 2014 course on reef ecology in the Maldives with the Siren Fleet. The atolls were Ari, Malé, and Rashdoo.

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Florida

Manatees, Key deer, Everglades birds and reptiles as well as a few other pictures from Florida. The pictures of the manatees were taken under a license from the US National Fish and Wildlife Services, Crystal river. All rules for photography of manatees were adhered to.

Tulamben, Bali 2013

Nusa Penida, Indonesia, 2013

Lembeh fall 2013

European adder close to the arctic circle

I live quite close to the arctic circle. That means that summers around here are very sunny, and even at times quite warm. However, most of the year is cold to very cold. As an example, there will still be serious amounts of snow even entering May, indicating that most of the year up here is really on the chilly side. As the snow comes Novemeberish, we have around 6 months of snow cover in the area.

European adder
European adder

So how about reptiles? We actually have three species of reptiles, and one of them, the European adder, is quite common in this area. As anyone even remotely familiar with the requirements of reptiles know, six months of snow cover is not really the kind of habitat one would expect to find snakes in. On the other hand, this environment actually ensures that it is very easy to observe adders in.

European adder
European adder

Adders need to find above zero degrees winter hibernating places. Such places are often large rocky escarpments with crevices deep down in the ground. Down in the crevices the snakes from quite a large area gather and over winter in safety. During early spring, when the snow starts melting, the over wintering spots often are the first to become snow free, enabling the adders to get some early spring sun and get their systems running again. Due to slower melting speeds around the over wintering spots, and the risk of zub-zero night temperatures, the snakes are confined to stay close to the crevices where they spend their winter, and are thus easily found and observed. These pictures are from last weeks early snake expedition, where a single adder defied 4 degrees C and a chilly wind. It even got to be warm enough to be pretty aggressive and angry, which is quite a feat at that temperature. The next warm spell will probably find more snakes up, leaving them stranded in a slowly melting sea of snow. When the snow finally disappears, the adders will disperse in the forest, using the four months or so that are reasonably warm for a snake around here to eat and get fat enough to reproduce and also survive the coming winter. Reptile wise the life of my neighbouring adders will be as much on the edge as any reptile ever can achieve.

How tame are animals that are not afraid?

Grey leaf monkey checking out the pictures I took on its mates. I am the guy in the green shirt.
Grey leaf monkey checking out the pictures I took on its mates. I am the guy in the green shirt. Picture taken by Henrik Sjödin

During my recent trip to Asia, I visited a couple of places where animals never experience hunting. One of these was the Labuk Bay proboscis centre just outside Sandakan in Sabah, Borneo, created primarily for proboscis monkeys living in a remnant of forest surrounded by palm oil plantations. The proboscis monkeys are supplementary fed regularly at the centre, and at times even grey leaf monkeys visit the feeding areas. Some of the grey leaf monkeys accept vegetables, while other individuals seem to be less interested. However, all the grey leaf monkeys show very little fear of people, to the level where some of them interact freely with visitors. The young female in the picture above actually looked at the pictures I showed her on the screen of my camera. The proboscis monkeys also show an amazing lack of fear, with certain dominant males ignoring people irrespective of distance.

Proboscis monkey, allowing me to approach close enough to be able to take a wide-angle picture starting at its hand.
Proboscis monkey, allowing me to approach close enough to be able to take a wide-angle picture starting at its hand.

The second place I visited with no hunting or other persecution of animals was the Danum Valley field centre outside Lahad Datu, also in Sabah, Borneo. This research centre has been active for more than 25 years, with a total protection for all animals inside the protected area. Some animals live close to the field centre itself, and become incredibly accessible. One wild orangutan has totally lost her fear of people.

Fearless orangutan female
Fearless orangutan female

In Danum Valley, there is also a resident herd of Sambar deer. These deer are generally hunted outside protected areas, and are shy there. In the Danum area, all deer let visitors approach to around 15 metres, while some of the deer have become so tame, that they can be petted and hand fed.

Sambar deer
Sambar deer

Bearded pigs and other animals, such as longtailed macaques, some civets and tree shrews seem to very quickly loose their fear of man in protected areas.

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Bearded pig

So, what is my point? Animals that are not shot at are less afraid! That is not a major revelation. But there is a consequence to the hunting and other activities that are not often discussed. As an avid animal watcher, I find most animals very hard to find, and even more so, really hard to actually follow and study. That is outside protected areas. Inside protected areas, many animals are very easily observed and do behave seemingly natural even in the presence of humans. On a scientific notion, such observations give a lot of information on the ecology of such animals. Furthermore, on a more societal notion, to many people including myself, it is a great experience seeing wild animals behave naturally in their environment. I wonder what a world without any hunting and other similar activities directed towards animals would be. It is easy to envision some kind of “Eden”like place where we could interact with animals in a much closer way than we do now. I would for one really like to try it.

Red leaf monkey, feeding next to my breakfast table
Red leaf monkey, feeding next to my breakfast table

All animals portrayed in this entry are wild, are not restricted in movements in any way and are free to leave and go wherever they will. None of them are captive bred, and none have ever been in captivity. All allowed me within 5 meters distance, and some obviously even closer without any sign of stress.

The weirdest thing

During a recent trip to Borneo, I participated in an inventory of frogs in rainforest streams. When searching for frogs along streams of Borneo, usually something really interesting shows up on the banks of the stream. This time we found something even more interesting than usual, a thing  I have never seen before despite numerous visits to this area.

_MG_6299It was a white, quite unstructured “thing”, suspended in silk threads inside a cage like structure. None of the participants in the inventory, including several field assitants that had worked in this part of Borneo for many years had ever seen anything like this. I had no idea what it could be and posted the picture on several web sites, hoping that someone would recognise the structure.

The power of internet is amazing. In just a day several of my colleagues had solved the problem. It turns out that this is the pupa of a certain butterfly. The butterfly is very hairy as a caterpillar.

Hairy caterpillar
Hairy Bornean caterpillar

Apparently, the caterpillar use its hairs to create the cage in which the butterfly hangs suspended during its pupa stage. One can only guess why this intricate behaviour has evolved, but a fair guess is that it in some way protects the pupa from predators or parasites.

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One of the evenings frogs

Sabah, Borneo