Creatures Of The Land

SNAKES

There is a popular belief that there are no venomous snakes in Papua New Guinea. This is not true. There are certain islands and sections of the mainland which are free, or partially free, but most areas have a few potentially deadly types lurking in the undergrowth. The visitor is therefore advised to walk with care through thick scrub and if he is serious about bushwalking, to wear good boots and army spats. Be especially careful if walking along a sealed road at night on which a death adder might be flaked out soaking up the last of the stored heat of the day.

The boatman need not go ashore to encounter a snake. We had one aboard. It was found one wet windy night in my son's bunk and if it was not a death adder it was a very close relative.

My abhorrence for reptiles is only matched by my cowardice in their presence, but this was one time when it had to be caught lest it remain aboard to frighten us another day. I grabbed it in gloved hands and threw it over the side then searched the vessel for friends and relatives. There were none — we sincerely hope!

I am almost certain that our snake came aboard curled up in some cargo we carried from one plantation to another.

If you don't carry cargo and do not spend too much time berthed to a plantation jetty which is close to a warehouse, the only way a snake might get aboard your vessel is via a bunch of bananas. Some villagers wrap their bunches in large leaves which creates a perfect haven for any comfort-seeking reptile. It is advisable, therefore, to strip such commodities of any covering before accepting them aboard ship.

RATS

No more common than other countries, and possibly there are fewer than in the alleys of large western cities, Papua New Guinea nevertheless has a large and healthy army of rats, divisions of which will be found near every wharf and especially around copra storage sheds.

Laying alongside any jetty is an open invitation for rat infestation, and even a stern line ashore will present a boarding ramp for an energetic and hungry rodent.

If your vessel is screened against mosquitoes, it is possible to resist rat invasion by simply closing the screens. If not, it will be found too hot below decks to close all hatches, skylights and vents. Thus, the only immediate way in which a rat can be intercepted — if not prevented from coming aboard, is to place an inviting piece of cheese in a trap close to the inboard end of the stern line or at a number of strategic places along the deck when alongside a jetty.

The closest we ever came to becoming a haven for Papua New Guinea rodents was once when laying alongside a copra jetty. Although closed down against their possible invasion I doubt that those sighted on deck first thing in the morning would have bothered venturing below because of a large bunch of bananas hanging from the rail. They had obviously spent the night devouring as much of it as possible. Based on this incident it can be said that food on deck, while an attraction, is also a barrier to a more permanent invasion which occurs once a rat goes below.

FAUNA

Except for the fabulous Bird of Paradise, Papua New Guinea has very little of a unique nature amongst its fauna. There are wallabies, bats and possums, ant eaters and a wild dog but all are closely related to Australian species. Even the 700 species of birds inhabitating the mainland are related to Australian birds.

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