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Newsletter 68
July 2023
Chilly winter - our quietest time of the year, busy but not as manic as the coming spring will surely be. However, this is the time of year that Animal Ark staff get a chance to holiday, attend courses or travel.

Sinai is off in Europe. Shannon, our animal care specialist, has completed a dog training workshop, helping upskill her for our coming Snake Avoidance season.

Kurt and I jetted off to look for dragons and vipers in Indonesia and our training facility at Mahogany Creek has had a few upgrades - new blinds and heaters to make our visitors more comfortable.

We have even got ahead of ourselves with packing up lots of fauna and snake handler equipment ready for the orders we get from all over Australia and occasionally overseas. It's in winter that our snakes and lizards get a good seasonal break as well.

David and Kurt on Padar Island. Photo: Ziggy 2023
The Russians have trained combat dolphins, as do some other countries. It would appear more dolphins are being prepared by Russia to defend Sevastopol Harbour in the annexed part of Ukraine called Crimea.

Recent British Intelligence reports from the Ministry of Defence suggest that the pens used to house the dolphins have almost doubled in size.

The bottlenose dolphins can be trained to perform various tasks: attack divers, attach buoys or bombs to targets such as sea mines and enemy ships, or simply to patrol around ships and harbours using their sight and sonar. They report back to trainers if unusual activity is sensed. So tragic is any war for people and wildlife.

Bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus on mineclearance operations. Photo: US Navy Brien Aho, Wikimedia Commons
In case you didn’t know about it, World Snake Day is a celebration of these incredible creatures.

All snakes are vertebrates, ectothermic and predators. Many species are persecuted and much feared, but snakes, like all creatures, play a very important role in their environment. They are good pest controllers, as many species consume rodents, and they are also a food source for many creatures. Everything from kookaburras in Australia to jaguars in South America will feed on snakes. There is even the brown snake eagle Circaetus cinereus from Africa which feeds almost exclusively on snakes, including some of the world’s most dangerous ones like black mambas and puff adders.

About 3,700 snake species are known globally and they occur on all continents except Antarctica. However, a few places like Ireland, New Zealand, Greenland, Alaska and Hawaii have no land snakes at all. Australia has about 190 species, WA over 100.

Brazilian rainbow boa Epicrates cenchria. Photo Animal Ark
No snake can ever close their eyes – they are open and protected by a see-through ‘spectacle scale’.

No snake has visible ears – but they can hear some airborne sound and feel vibrations. As they evolved what is left of the ear bones are attached to the lower jaw bone.

All snakes are predators – none eat bananas or salad. Some feed almost exclusively on tiny termites and eggs, larger snakes can consume deer, kangaroos and very rarely even humans.

Smallest: Barbados threadsnake Leptotyphlops carlae - adults only 10.4cm.
Longest: Reticulated python Malayopython reticulatus - 7.6m realistically!
Biggest ever snake: The extinct Titanoboa Titanoboa cerrejonensis from 66 to 56 million years ago - this monstrous serpent is estimated to have been 13m long and weighing in at 1,100kg.
Oldest: At 65 years of age a royal python Python regius in St Louis Zoo, Missouri USA.
Strangest: Many snakes have unusual attributes but not many match the spider-tailed horned viper Pseudocerastes urarachnoides, a species of snake found in Iran and Iraq whose tail has evolved a special appendage that looks just like a spider – this is wriggled around to attract spider eating birds.
Snake creche: Some snake species look after their young and some even look after their friends young whilst they go out hunting.
See you: Some snakes have good facial recognition of humans. Be nice as that snake may recognise and remember you if you’re chasing it with a shovel!
All in one basket: Some snakes lay eggs communally and a nest of our Aussie whip snakes Demansia sp may contain 500 to 600 eggs - only about 20 from any one individual female.
Playing dead: Death feigning is common in many species. If scared just roll over and look dead or very sick. Sounds strange, but must be effective.
Snake tails: Caudal luring is quite common with snakes - some species lure prey within range by wriggling their tails.

Southern death adder Acanthophis antarcticus about to shed skin eye spectacle blue. Photo: Houndstooth Studio / Animal Ark

Two royal pythons. Photo: Animal Ark

Milk snake. Photo Animal Ark

I’ve just returned from a herpetological trip to Indonesia. Lead trainer Kurt, myself and a couple of friends, headed off to the island of Flores. We boarded a small traditional boat and went hunting for snakes and giant lizards. The trip, superbly organised by Aaranya Wildlife Odysseys,, helped our small team avoid tourists and queues; assisted, we had the opportunity to come close to and witness feeding behaviour of Komodo dragons. The largest lizards in the world growing to 3m long are found only on 5 of the islands within the Komodo National Park: Komodo, Flores, Padar, Rinca and Gili Motang.

To cap it all off our local guide, Augus Elang, helped us whilst spotlighting at night to find and observe several species of snake including the magnificent Lesser Sundas white-lipped pit vipers Trimeresurus insularis - pictured are both the green and amazing blue form. One catching a rat – which we watched trying to drag its meal away from our bright lights – so we backed off and let it enjoy its meal in peace and darkness.

The snorkelling was amazing too.

Lesser Sundas white lipped pit viper blue phase Trimeresurus insularis. Photo: Animal Ark

Lesser Sundas white lipped pit viper Trimeresurus insularis. Photo: Animal Ark

We continue to train through the winter and spring will be here before we know it. Many future dates are already booking so don’t leave it too late.

All bookings can be made through the website

Cavalier King Charles. Photo: Animal Ark
SOLO KIT Usually $495. July and August price $450 including postage in WA. Phone 08 9243 3044 to arrange with discount

See the Animal Ark online shop for our full list of snake and fauna handling equipment.

Animal Ark Solo Snake Handling Kit
IN FOCUS: Komodo Dragon Varanus komodoensis
Komodo dragons are very large monitor lizards found only within the Komodo National Park region of Eastern Indonesia, about an hour by plane from Bali. These huge lizards are the apex predators in their domain. They may measure over 3m in length. Their diet mainly consists of the Javan Rusa deer Rusa timorensis. But birds, bird eggs, small mammals, monkeys, and other dragons are also eaten.

The locals on at least two islands I visited, Rinca and Komodo, leave the offal and skeletal remains of animals they butcher at strategic places away from the village for the dragons. Often some meat is placed in plastic plumbing type tubes to putrefy – the odours attract the dragons. Sometimes the offal is hung in sacks from trees to aid in the odour reaching the dragons and luring them in to feed away from the villages. Dragons can smell/taste these offerings up to 9km away. Most of the villages are protected at least partially by walls and fences aimed at deterring this very dangerous animal. The people, their children, and livestock such as goats and chickens would otherwise attract them. In the last 50 years there have been 24 reported attacks on humans, mostly local villagers within the Komodo National Parks, of these 5 proved fatal.

Mating begins in May and around September up to 20 eggs are laid. These are often interred in a self-dug nesting hole. However, there is a strange relationship between the orange-footed scrub fowl bird Megapodius reinwardt and the dragons. Sometimes the dragons lay their eggs in the large mound nests the birds build and do not eat the bird’s eggs, and sometimes they do. Protocooperation is where both species gain a benefit, presumably for the scrub fowl having a dragon near your nest would keep other predators away. And for the dragon the heat within the mound incubates and protects your eggs.

The juveniles hatch about 8 months later and very quickly climb up into the trees where they remain for the next couple of years leading a mostly arboreal existence to avoid cannibalisation. They only come to ground permanently when large enough and at about 20kg are too heavy to live up in the trees. About 10% of the diet of adult dragons are the juveniles! The young dragons themselves prey on invertebrates, lizards, snakes, and cautiously large carcasses.

Reproduction is also possible by parthenogenesis where a female is asexual, needing no male partner to produce offspring.

Komodo dragons are venomous – the venom seeping up between teeth in the lower jaw. The venom has anti coagulation properties and helps induce shock in its prey. The often-stated role of weaponised bacteria in their saliva is apparently a myth. However, many prey animals would die simply from the trauma and blood loss after an attack by such a powerful reptile. My group and I felt very privileged to see and observe these endangered animals in the wild and fully support the efforts of the Indonesian government in assisting with manageable tourism for the remaining 3,000 or so dragons currently living in the region. More should be done to bring some of the tourism dollars to the villages themselves, so they benefit from living amongst these monsters. It was certainly fantastic to visit the villages, but litter is definitely a problem in the village surrounds. Fortunately the dragon habitats seemed remarkably clear of human waste.

Komodo dragon Varanus komodoensis. Photo Charles J Sharp, Wikimedia Commons

Komodo dragon Varanus komodoensis head shot. Photo Animal Ark

Komodo dragon feeding. Photo Kurt Bennett Animal Ark

Upcoming Courses and Events
For Snake Avoidance Training for Dogs please see

For the latest on Animal Ark at public events please see

For Snake and Fauna Handler Training please see

Courses held regularly around Perth plus on-site and remote site training available on request subject to availability.