All posts by The Accidental Hiker

Know your venomous snakes! And what to do if one bites you…

Snake season has arrived in Hong Kong, so here’s a brief introduction to some of the main venomous land snakes you might stumble across (not literally, I hope!) whilst out hiking, trail walking or visiting a country park, and what to do if you’re unlucky enough to be bitten by one (also published as a static page here). But first, a quick lesson in terminology!

Poisonous vs Venomous

These two terms are often confused and used interchangeably, but simply put, poisons are secreted (so bad to touch or eat), whilst venoms are mechanically delivered (so via fangs, stingers or spines, etc.). Both poisons and venoms are toxins, which is the umbrella term for all harmful (organic) substances. The difference is in the delivery: poisons are passively ‘delivered’ for defensive purposes; venoms are actively delivered primarily for offensive (but also defensive) purposes.

‘Toxic’ snakes are thus largely venomous, although there are a handful that are also poisonous like the Red-necked Keelback, which has both a venomous rear bite (rarely utilised) as well as poisonous neck secretions acquired through its scrumptious diet of poisonous toads (clearly not poisonous enough in this instance, lol). Cute, non-aggressive snake, though, so have no fear! Especially since the Red-necked Keelback can often be found hanging out on local trails during the day.

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Remember: If you bite it and you die, it’s poisonous. If it bites you and you die, it’s venomous. :p This frog looks rightfully cheesed off, I should add, lol

poisonous vs venomous cartoon

Hong Kong’s Venomous Snakes

Here’s a table from Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) showing our most common venomous land snakes. I cropped out the rarer venomous species and non-lethal ones. For the complete listing, with active links to further details on each snake species, see the original table here. See also the external links at the bottom of this page for more comprehensive information and guides on Hong Kong snakes, both venomous and non.

In summary, however, the kraits and cobras are the ones to be the most wary of, as they pack the most lethal bites. The Coral Snake is also lethal but fairly secretive, whilst the Red-necked Keelback is pretty docile and only bad if it gets with you with its rear fangs, which is rare. The Bamboo Pit Viper (pictured at top) is both aggressive and venomous (bad combo!), accounting for most snake bites in Hong Kong, but fortunately it’s not very lethal. Phew!

Also worth noting, of the snakes below, all are strictly or nearly always nocturnal, except for the cobras and Red-necked Keelback. So, if you stick to daytime hikes and walks, it’s only cobras that you really need to watch out for. I say “only cobras” like it’s no big deal, lol, but you catch my drift. Problem is cobras can be easily confused with non-venomous rat snakes, which are also diurnal, so when in doubt, err on the side of caution! Don’t forget, cobras look just like regular snakes when their hoods are down…

hk venomous snakes chart
Source: Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD)

Continue reading Know your venomous snakes! And what to do if one bites you…

Pic of the Day: The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Funky caterpillar with a big appetite, unfortunately species unknown

I spotted this very hungry caterpillar out of the corner of my eye soon after passing Discovery Bay’s Lo Fu Tau a few weeks back. Love the funky colours, ‘design’ and prickly barbs. No idea of the species or what it turns into, unfortunately, or whether it’s toxic in any way, so if anyone knows, do tell me in the comments section. Thanks!

You can see more of my local wildlife encounters here – it’s an ongoing work in progress! (I seriously need to chance upon more snakes, lol.) If you’re interested, I also have a page dedicated to wild Hong Kong flowers and plants, with lots of photos personally taken by me whilst out and about on my hikes and walks.

Snakes galore at Pui O snake talk!

Yesterday afternoon, William Sargent, one of Hong Kong’s leading self-taught ‘snake guys’ (read: catcher, rescuer and all-round snake expert/enthusiast), held an excellent info session at Pui O on the slithery subject, which saw a solid turnout of interested folk. The talk primarily focused on snake identification, venomous species in Hong Kong, and what to do if bitten and by what, in addition to educating people about snakes generally as a way to help remove the fear factor and promote respect for our legless neighbours.

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Event speaker William Sargent, one of Hong Kong’s leading self-taught ‘snake guys’

The session was detailed, informative and participatory, with lots of questions thrown at and asked by the fascinated audience. There were even a dozen or so wild snakes on display that William had specifically caught for the event in the days prior, which was an added bonus. At the end, William handled a Copperhead Rat Snake and an extra feisty Common/Oriental Rat Snake, before inviting several audience members to take on some very cute and gentle Greater Green Snakes (naturally, I was one of the first to volunteer!).

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William displaying a Copperhead Rat Snake (Coelognathus radiatus)
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Woo-hoo, me handling (for quite some time, too) an adorable Greater Green Snake! They are so utterly cute and gentle. I want one, lol

I thoroughly enjoyed the talk and the opportunity to see so many wild species up close, from the non-venomous Copperhead Rat Snake (Coelognathus radiatus), Common/Oriental Rat Snake (Ptyas mucosa) and Greater Green Snake (Cyclophiops major) to the venomous Red-necked Keelback (Rhabdophis subminiatus helleri), Bamboo Pit Viper (Trimeresurus albolabris), Chinese Cobra (Naja atra) and very lethal Many-banded Krait (Bungarus multicinctus multicinctus) 😮 , plus more! Below are some cool snake pics I took at the event.

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Greater Green Snake (Cyclophiops major)
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Red-necked Keelback (Rhabdophis subminiatus helleri)
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Bamboo Pit Viper (Trimeresurus albolabris)
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Chinese Cobra (Naja atra)
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Many-banded Krait (Bungarus multicinctus multicinctus)

Thanks to William Sargent (speaker), Living Islands Movement (organisers) and GardenPlus (venue), plus the slithery stars of the event! See also this recent interview with William and consider joining his Facebook group “Hong Kong Snakes” (it’s a closed group with over 2,500 members at the time of writing) if you have an interest in snakes, snake identification and/or need a snake removed or relocated.

Pic of the Day: Taiwan Kukri Snake

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Taiwan Kukri Snake (Oligodon formosanus)

I recently did my first hike in a while, having switched to a stint of power walking in the weeks prior, and lo and behold I saw a snake! We have entered snake season after all, but that’s still pretty cool to see a snake on my ‘first’ hike. Not only did I stumble upon a live one, but this was the first time I was able to properly photograph one of my rare snake encounters. How exciting!

What we have here is a Taiwan Kukri Snake (Oligodon formosanus), a medium-sized non-venomous snake that is reportedly uncommon but widely distributed in Hong Kong. Its enlarged rear teeth apparently resemble Nepalese kukri knives, hence the name. Check out the cool head and eye markings, plus the lilac highlights along its body.

I was hiking up to Lo Fu Tau in DB when I spotted the snake literally just hanging out on the dirt trail in front of me. It made no attempt to escape, only curling up closer to the grass once it got fed up with my continued presence, lol. In fact, it was so brave and motionless for the first while, I initially thought it might be dead, but it was very much alive, believe me!

See more of my local wildlife encounters here – it’s an ongoing work in progress! If you’re interested, I also have a page dedicated to wild Hong Kong flowers and plants, with lots of photos personally taken by me whilst out and about on hikes and walks.

Pic of the Day: Sunset at Tai O

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All that glitters may not be real gold, but sometimes it’s better!

I recently walked Lantau’s Tung O Ancient Trail from Tung Chung to Tai O, and what a lovely (albeit sweaty!) trek that turned out to be. 🙂  Great company (“the best”, lol), a good pace throughout and gorgeous views like this one, which I managed to capture as we neared Tai O at the start of an overcast sunset. It’s like honey from the heavens pouring through the clouds and turning into liquid gold upon hitting the water. Stunning! Thanks ZB for the fab company. 😉  That was a truly great day! 😀

If you like nature photography, in particular flora and fauna pics, check out my dedicated pages on wild Hong Kong flowers and plants and local wildlife encounters, which contain lots of photos personally taken by me whilst out and about on my various hikes and walks. Enjoy!

Hong Kong’s barking deer still dying in catchwater drain that activists exposed two years ago

Protected animals getting trapped in concrete nullah on Lantau Island despite calls for action

Published: SCMP, 15 Apr 2017
Link to the original article here

Hong Kong’s barking deer are still dying and being injured in the same concrete-lined catchwater drain that the South China Morning Post revealed was harming the animals two years ago.

The concrete structure between Tong Fuk and Shek Pik on Lantau Island remains a major hazard for the creatures, which have been climbing down into the nullah to drink water before realising they are trapped.

Four deer have fallen in over the past month, despite animal welfare campaigners having spoken to the government about the issue in 2015. Activists said at least two of those deer died from their injuries or starvation, while the others were seriously injured, often to their hooves or horns, meaning they eventually had to be euthanised after being captured.

Campaigners are furious that the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) has ignored their calls to build exits for the deer within the Water Supplies Department’s (WSD) catchment.

Jacqui Green, founder of animal rights charity Protection of Animals Lantau South, said three deer had been trapped in the catchwater within just 12 days.

“These gentle, graceful but extremely shy and sensitive creatures are a protected species in Hong Kong,” she said. “Almost two years have elapsed [since the group highlighted the problem] and these animals are still dying. It is very disappointing, and also deeply distressing for those of us actively involved with the protection of the deer, to realise just how little has been achieved by the WSD and the AFCD since our initial meeting in May 2015. These are protected animals and essentially all we are asking for is a serious commitment towards this aim.”

Kathleen Daxon, spokeswoman for Tai O Community Cattle Group, said it was getting harder to monitor how many deer were dying or being hurt in the catchwater.

“We have no way to know how many animals have died in there,” she said. “We are more than just frustrated. [Government officials] did not even do the upgrades they committed to.”

Daxon also expressed concern about the way government officials handle the deer during rescue missions.

“Our videos show how brutally they handle them,” she said. “In one case, they should have just left the animal to die there from the way they were handling it.”

Barking deer, known for their distinctive canine yelp, are a protected species in Hong Kong but, because of their nocturnal feeding habits, environmentalists have found it difficult to estimate their numbers.

In 2015, the AFCD said the government had put railings along the catchwater drain area to prevent animals falling in, but said the access ladders installed at the site were not intended to help the animals escape.

Workers at Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden near Tai Po advised the government to put an adequately textured painted surface over the concrete, which would help animals to climb back out if they fell in. The farm has also suggested screwing small foothold blocks on the surface of the catchwater, or installing ramps. Some of the injured deer are being cared for at Kadoorie Farm until they are strong enough to be released back into the wild.

Paul Crow, a senior conservation officer there, said the deer which were taken to recover at the farm had been through “extreme stress” and most died after developing the muscle condition capture myopathy, which stems from the stress of being caught.

“This is an unfortunate situation that appears to have worsened in recent months and the exact reason for this is unclear,” Crow said. “The issue will not go away so there is an opportunity here to be innovative and develop solutions which can be applied widely in Hong Kong .”

Continue reading Hong Kong’s barking deer still dying in catchwater drain that activists exposed two years ago

Hong Kong hikers warned as death toll exceeds 2016 total in just four months

The latest casualty was a 60-year-old man who collapsed on Sunday while trekking through Plover Cove

Published: SCMP, 17 Apr 2017
Link to the original article here

An alarming number of hiker deaths in Hong Kong has prompted experts to warn the public to take extra precaution when venturing on the city’s trails.

Five people died in hiking-related incidents on the city’s trails over the first four months of the year, exceeding the total of four deaths in all of 2016, according to the South China Morning Post’s records.

The latest casualty was a 60-year-old man who collapsed on Sunday while trekking through Plover Cove Country Park. He was with a group of eight hikers, who were close to Wu Kau Tang when he complained of feeling dizzy, before losing consciousness.

Dan Van Hoy, a leader with the Hong Kong Hiking group on social networking platform Meet Up, said he was particularly worried when he saw hikers not carrying provisions such as water, food or suncream.

He said he did not want to dissuade people from hiking, but urged beginner hikers to start by attempting easy trails with plenty of shaded areas and water springs before building up to more challenging ones.

“My suggestion would be for people who have not been hiking recently or who are over the age of 50, just to pay a little visit to your doctor – it seems to be prudent to check your health beforehand,” he said.

“In our groups, you always have people who are not experienced in hiking and do not come really prepared. Some people will tell you they ran the Standard Chartered Marathon last year, but I ask them what exercise they have done in the last six to eight weeks. I advise people to start small and build up over a period of weeks.”

Hiking-related accidents and injuries have increased in Hong Kong, as the pastime has become more popular.

Hiker numbers steadily rose from 12.2 million in 2005 to 13.3 million in 2015. Meanwhile, the number of mountain rescues more than doubled from 138 in 2005 to 357 in 2016.

Hikers’ lack of preparation, and a desire to take the best photo for social media, have been blamed for the worrying trend.

Tony Basoglu, another leader for the Hong Kong Hiking Meet Up group, said he was not surprised that hiking accidents were on the rise. He also emphasised that preparation was key to avoiding injury.

“As there are more and more people on the hills, it’s only normal that more accidents and health issues will happen,” he said.

“You always need to carry plenty of water and also drink, drink, drink. You just need to take appropriate precautions and go out and have fun.”

Basoglu said hikers should be particularly mindful to assess their physical limits before attempting difficult trails during hot weather.

“In [the latest] case, it was not an accident – it was an older gentleman and it seems he suffered some kind of health issue,” he said.

“I guess it’s due to heat and exertion, as it was quite hot at the time.

“It could also be that he was not in the greatest of shapes and the stress on his body caused his heart to give out. When we get to that age, we need to be much more careful about exertions.”

Shum Si-ki, who founded the Hiking Meet Up group in 2005, called on the government to start recording the number of hiking-related deaths in country parks to better monitor the situation.

“Particularly on hot days, not many people can cope in these conditions,” he said.

“I think the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department could start monitoring the death toll. Hiking is a major pastime of Hong Kong people and because it is getting more popular, the number of people getting injured it going to go up.”

85 Hong Kong hill fires reported during Ching Ming festival, three times last year’s number

The largest case was in Fanling, where a blaze tore through 250,000 square metres of hillside

Published: SCMP, 4 Apr 2017
Link to the original article here

A total of 85 hill fires reported on Tuesday [April 4] – more than three times the number recorded in the same period last year – kept Hong Kong firefighters busy amid the dry weather during the annual Ching Ming grave-sweeping festival.

As the yellow fire danger warning remained in force for about 12 hours on Tuesday, the Government Flying Service deployed helicopters to fight some flames that broke out mainly in the New Territories.

The largest blaze was reported in Yuen Leng, Fanling, where about 250,000 square metres – roughly 35 football fields – of hillside land caught fire shortly before 1pm. Firefighters took about three hours to extinguish the flames, a government spokeswoman said.

Another hill fire, covering an area of 10,000 square metres, broke out in Tai Yeung Che, Tai Po, at about 10am. It was put out shortly before 11:30am.

The spokeswoman said no helicopters were deployed in both cases.

A helicopter was sent to perform a water drop when about 4,000 square metres of hillside caught fire near Shui Chuen O Estate in Sha Tin at midday.

The blaze was extinguished shortly before 2:45pm.

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From 8am to 5pm Tuesday, the Government Flying Service deployed its Super Puma helicopters on 11 water bombing flights in response to 16 hill fires.

No casualties were reported in the incidences, the spokeswoman said.

By 10pm Tuesday, 85 hillside fires had been recorded across the city, the Fire Services Department said.

There were 26 reports of hill fire during last year’s Ching Ming festival when an amber rainstorm warning signal was in force for nearly three hours.

According to the Hong Kong Observatory, the yellow fire danger warning – indicating high fire risk – was issued at 6am Tuesday and cancelled 12 hours later.

“It was dry in the afternoon. The relative humidity in many places fell below 60 per cent,” the Observatory said.

Ching Ming festival is one of two annual occasions when people pay respects to their ancestors by sweeping and burning paper offerings at graves. The other event is the Chung Yeung festival [October 28 this year].

Elderly hiker dies after passing out in Clear Water Bay Country Park

Victim fainted while climbing stairs and was airlifted to hospital

Published: SCMP, 4 Apr 2017
Link to the original article here

Pic of the Day: Tiger Wasp Moth

Tiger Wasp Moth (Amata polymita)

Is it a bee? Is it a wasp? Some strange hybrid? Turns out it’s none of the above: It’s a moth. Huh? Yep, what we have here is a Tiger Wasp Moth (Amata polymita), also known as a Tiger-striped Clearwing Moth.

I spotted it feeding on some Praxelis on Lantau and didn’t know what to make of it at the time, since it does look rather like a bee/wasp, yet not quite. Most unique, and since it’s only a moth mimicking a wasp, presumably harmless.

See more of my local wildlife encounters here – it’s an ongoing work in progress! If you’re interested, I also have a page dedicated to wild Hong Kong flowers and plants, with lots of photos personally taken by me whilst out and about on hikes and walks.