Location: Thailand is home to an
extremely diverse herpetofauna with elements of South and South
East Asian faunas.
The Siamese crocodile, Crocodylus siamensis,
is one of the Worlds most endangered crocodiles. A freshwater
species with isolated populations in several S.E.Asian countries,
the Siamese crocodile is almost extinct in the wild in the country
for which it was named, Siam, now called Thailand. They were hunted
heavily for their skins through the late 19th and early 20th centuries,
and the remaining wild animals were collected and moved to newly
established crocodile farms. Although large captive populations
still exist, many farm populations have been genetically diluted
by deliberate or accidental hybridisation with Saltwate r crocodiles,
Crocodylus porosus. Yosapong Temsiripong is a young Thai
crocodile biologist dedicated to re-establishing the national crocodile
back in the wild. To achieve his dream he must not only find a suitable
and safe location with abundant prey, nesting beaches and habitat,
but he must also identify pure-bred Siamese crocodiles in the farm
populations from which to draw his colonists. Although there are
characteristics which can be used to separate pure Siamese crocodiles
from pure Saltwater crocodiles, the large number of hybrids with
variable characters in the farms means that Yosapong must rely more
on DNA than visual differences to locate his founder stock.
The other problem concerns where to establish
the new population of Siamese crocodiles. The ideal location would
be somewhere with an existing wild population but with room for
a growing population, somewhere remote, pristine and biologically
The answer may have appeared in an unlikely manner.
Whilst surveying the Phetchaburi River valley, Kaeng Krachen National
Park, for tigers using remotely triggered camera traps, biologist
Tony Lynam (Wildlife Conservation Society, New York) found himself
looking at a very important photograph.
On the 37th frame of a 36th frame film he saw a subadult crocodile
striding purposefully across the sand bar and into the water, taking
its own photograph in the process. An existing population of crocodiles
in a remote region could be exactly what Yosapong Temsiripong is
looking for. Yosapong, Tony and Mark set out to travel down the
Phetchaburi River in an effort to gather more data on the crocodile
population and hopefully trap one for a DNA sample. It is a large-scale
expedition, eight boats, 23 people, 1,000kg of equipment, eight
days, over 17 miles.
The Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis)
is almost extinct in the wild but very common in croc farms. However
they were hybridised with Saltwater crocodiles (C.porosus), for
the quality skin of the Siamese combined with the rapid growth of
As they make preparations for their expedition
down the Phetchaburi Mark and his team receive word of another crocodile
sighting on the river that they feel should also be investigated.
But before he sets out Mark investigates wildlife
conservation and anti-poaching methods in Thailand. He and Tony
join a raid on a factory near Bangkok where wildlife protection
officers suspect reptiles are being illegally killed for their skins
and meat and Mark learns first-hand how Park Rangers are being trained
by WCS and WildAid to deal with poachers in the Khao Yai National
Park. [Mark also meets king cobra handlers in central Bangkok and
travels to Tarutao Island in southern Thailand to canoe into caves
once inhabited by crocodiles, with John Caveman Gray
and his team. Mark caught ten young Reticulated pythons, Python
reticulatus, in trees overhanging the narrow rivers of the island.
These sequences did not make the final edit of the film which concentrated
on Kaeng Krachen and Khao Yai National Parks.]
||Giant Asian toad
||Blyth's giant river frog
||Burmese rock frog
||Annam narrow-mouthed frog
||Berdmore's narrow-mouthed frog
||ASIAN HARD-SHELLED TURTLES
||Asian hill-stream turtle
|Manouria emys phayrei
||Giant Asian black tortoise
||Common house gecko
||Striped tree skink
||Many striped skink
|Calotes emma emma
||Forest crested lizard
||Common garden lizard
||OLD WORLD LIZARDS
||Bengal monitor lizard
|Varanus dumerili nebulosa
||Clouded monitor lizard
|Varanus salvator salvator
||Water monitor lizard
||Common mock viper
Location: Most of our expedition was based in the Kaeng Krachen
National Park on the Burmese border but we also filmed around Bangkok
and in Khao Yai National Park. We visited Taratao Island, where
I caught eight pythons, but the footage did not make the final film.
O'Shea checks the health of a live Javan filesnake (Acrochordus
javanicus), an aquatic snake often used in the skin trade. A dozen
were found in one sack in the bushes.
Armed Park Rangers arrest OShea and two other
poachers. Actually they were Rangers too and this was
a training session. That said, these guys play hard !
OShea with the Park Rangers being trained to detain poachers
and conserve wild flora and fauna in Thai national parks. They are
being trained by WildAid and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The crew, (l-r) sound recordist Terry Meadowcroft; director Roger
Finnigan, cameraman Mark Stokes and myself, with WildAid instructors.