Up Close and Personal with Trimeresurus macrolepis
As a student we rarely encountered snakes on the hikes and adventures we took out into the Palni Hills almost every weekend. Despite having been exposed to Rom Whitaker’s wisdom and love for snakes at an early age I was not one of the adventurous ones picking up and investigated the few snakes that we did find. My friends, father and I had an unforgettable experience with a pit-viper near Kukaal Cave soon after we graduated from KIS in 1988. My pictures of it were ruined when I slipped, dunked my Olympus camera in a pool and barely missed breaking my leg when a boulder came tumbling in after me.
It was only as an adult working at the Mahindra United World College of India near Pune that I became fascinated with reptiles and amphibians. They shared the campus with us and we encountered numerous species frequently. Necessity intervened and I found myself assisting faculty members and students in catching and rescuing snakes that had found the way into school housing and classrooms. As I’ve sought to widen my documentation of the Western Ghats I’ve been looking for opportunities to photograph endemic amphibians and reptiles.
This summer, with five weeks in southern India, I was especially keen to find and photograph a few Western Ghats endemics snakes with my new medium format close-up equipment. I’ve been on the lookout for the Large Scaled Pit Viper (Trimeresurus macrolepis) for the past three-rive years and what a thrill it was when one of the VCT members found a beautiful specimen near the shola nurseries at Pillar Rocks! It became our family pet for the next several days, while I photographed it under different conditions. As with the other close-up work I used a Hasselblad mounted with a 120 mm Makro Planar (+ 55 extension tubes), mostly with Kodak T-max 100 film. I used a strobe for a few of the images though I still aspire to Ashok Captain-like lighting! The color was shot on a digital camera (D-200) using a 105 mm macro lens. My father, Merrick, played a key role in all of this. He’s a genius- Merrick took apart and rebuilt the extension tubes when they jammed the Hasse in June. When we started catching shieldtails (Uropeltis sp.) in the garden he crafted a very useful aluminum snake stick for bigger finds. During the various shoots he assisted with holding various props and keeping the very curious kids at bay!
Just before we returned to Colombo, Merrick, the kids and I took a hike with our snake to Gundattu Shola. We found it a home in a bed of nettle set aside a stream. In the future I’d like to visit the nearby Highwavys to attempt to track down the highly elusive Tropidolaemus huttoni first discovered by Angus Hutton1948 but not seen since.