What about going to search for the Siamese
Crocodile in Thailand? The YAP researcher had been burrowing
in the internet when he hit on the story. It sounded great- but
what he didnt tell me was that there were less than 10 wild
crocs in the whole of Thailand. Formerly Siam (hence the croc's
name), Thailand is twice the size of Britain or for Big Adventure
viewers larger than the state of California. Now thats a handful
of creatures in a very large territory. We like a challenge on Dangerous
Reptiles/Big Adventure, and by God we got one!
Siamese crocodiles possess a pair of raised
post-occipital scutes on either side of the neck which are absent
in the Saltwater crocodiles which is sometimes called the naked-neck
crocodile. There are other differences ie. Colour, patterning, leg
and cloacal scales, but hybrids can possess a mixture of characters
making DNA the best way to determine pure Siamese crocodile stock.
Siamese crocs are thought to grow up to 13 feet
long with formidable dentistry. Thailands rivers used to be
stiff with crocs until businessmen spotted a profitable line in
shoes and handbags and started trapping them for crocodile farms.
Now pretty well the only place to find a croc in Thailand is in
captivity. Its a bizarre reversal plenty of crocs in
the farms, virtually none in the wild. Then a guy called Tony Lynam
from the Wildlife Conservation Society accidentally took a mysterious
photograph of a Siamese croc using a movement sensitive camera trap.
It was a big animal too between two and three metres. So
we set off to try and find evidence of more of these critters on
the Phetchaburi River in Kaeng Krachan National Park where the photo
was taken. We travelled with Tony and also croc biologist Yosapong
Temsiripong who had an ambitious plan to put captive crocs back
into the wild.
But it seemed like the gods didnt want us
to find a croc because we were frustrated at every turn. The site
where the photo was taken is accessible only by river. First of
all, our recce to check out the river had to be cancelled because
of a military operation. The national park chief informed us the
Thai army was sweeping the forest to flush out armed men who had
crossed the border from nearby Burma. This created all kinds of
logistical problems. When we set out to film we didnt know
how long the journey would take nor what we would face in the way
of white water rapids.
In addition we decided that a doctor was essential
for the journey. If OShea took a bite it would be at least
12 hours before we could get him near a hospital. Evacuation by
chopper was out of the question because of the extraordinary steepness
of the river valley. Eventually we located a Thai doctor who was
up for the trip. Dr.Chukiat had some unusual ways to spend his spare
time in the forest. Every morning hed sit with his trousers
rolled up to attract the numerous biting insects which always follow
us around on OShea trips. But Chukiat was a scholar not a
masochist. His collection of biters, stingers and suckers found
its way back to a university lab in Bangkok to educate his
Thankfully Dr.Chukiat was around to treat cameraman
Mark Stokes who fell painfully damaging knee ligaments on a hazardous
trek upstream to check out a recent crocodile sighting. Because
of the illusion of television, its hard for an audience to
realise the sheer physical challenge of mounting an operation like
Siamese Crocodile. It was more like an expedition than
a telly programme. 8 boats and 23 people. And people in extreme
circumstances get injured. Our cameraman was hobbling for a week
after his accident. It didnt help that he was forced to film
from moving boats going down rapids with his leg in unbelievably
crooked positions. And try running towards a snake or away from
an elephant with damaged ligaments.
To add insult to (his) injury, Stokesy nearly
smashed his DV camera filming farm-bred crocs up close. As he lowered
his camera on a pole to within inches of a crocodiles jaws,
we were all salivating over the shot when the croc spoiled the party
with one violent swipe of its head. Its still a great shot-
and its in the film!
Thankfully the evenings on the river offered some relaxation
a sort. We slept in hammocks assaulted by leeches. One morning I
got up for breakfast to be greeted by hoots of derision and people
pointing at my face. Im used to this at home from my son but
only later did I realise a huge leech was feeding from my eyebrow.
Colonies of ants rapelled doggedly down the ropes attaching the
hammocks to the trees and built highways into our sleeping bags.
At least we could relax and watch episodes of the cult British comedy
show The League of Gentlemen. Surely this is the weirdest
of environments to watch TV? - a rainforest at night surrounded
by cicadas and disbelieving Thais. Surreal.
Theres always a most thrilling moment
on an OShea shoot. For me it was on a night shoot. We were
searching for crocs in a small rubber boat by looking for the reflected
light from their eyes. It was pitch black when we hit some pretty
tasty rapids. Suddenly we were deafened by white water and pulverised
by overhanging tree branches. The boat was bucking like a wild horse.
If the worst happened and we pitched into the river would the crocs
be waiting? Another of those Big Adventure moments which makes you
realise how good it would be to stay alive! See it on TV.
OShea and crocodile expert Yosapong Temsiripong with a reticulated
python (Python reticulatus) caught in Kaeng Krachen National Park.
The snake is in pre-slough condition but is also had terrible injuries,
probably from an encounter with a leopard.
The sand bank where Tony Lynams remote camera trap took the
now famous photograph of the Siamese crocodile which started the