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  • Writer's pictureNondiarist

Messages from Penang – An island tour

Another year has passed and humans continue to be both insulted and astounded to find that natural selection really does apply just as much to us as it does to all the other animal and plant species on this planet. Just picture us all sitting around a massive TV watching one of those wildlife documentaries, nodding at each other knowingly and agreeing, “Well, yes, of course – we see how it works.”

Clearly we don’t.

But there’s no doubt that homo sapiens will prevail. There are many things to catch up on and this insane year ended with two more boxes on the list of Penang sights to visit being ticked.

It’s worth noting that the tourist information and guides are right when they state that the Snake Temple is not like some set from a horror movie and visitors won’t find themselves thrust directly into an Indiana Jones-type adventure. It’s a very small temple, there’s no slithering nest of vipers underfoot and you don’t have to take out life insurance before going, but it does have an interesting history and if you want to see some real, live snakes, they’re there.

Those who want to get up close and personal can pose for photos while draped in a substantial but very placid python and get to feel the silken skin and solid muscle.

Yes, I was in that queue.

Out back is a walled garden filled with trees. A sign proclaims that this is the snake breeding area. Okay, I’m thinking…looking… I see trees… and more trees… and lots of leaves and woody bits…

I’ve done safaris in Africa in the company of experienced, eagle-eyed rangers and been mystified by their skill at locating the animals and birds in their care. This ability doesn’t just extend to knowing where this, that or the other big game animal will be at certain times of the day or night – that seems like something anyone with an interest in animal behaviour might learn. No, what they’ve made into an art is seeing the beasties when all their tourists are registering an empty landscape.

Of course, once you have managed to spot the warthog/duiker/rhino/lion/giraffe…



“There, next to that thicket under the acacia!”


There! See it move?”



“Oh, wait a second… YES! YES! YES!”

…you can’t believe you couldn’t see it before. And so it was with the pit vipers (Wagler’s, I believe) at Penang Snake Temple. I thought maybe they’d all escaped, then part of one of the tree branches unexpectedly became a most unusual colour and my brain did a join-the-dots exercise to form a (very pretty) black, yellow and white banded snake coiled around the tree limb. Then I saw another, and another, and another and suddenly they were everywhere.

The phone mast in the background is making a commendable effort at being invisible too but not quite succeeding.

Continuing the natural history theme, I finally got to visit Entopia near the north-west corner of Penang island. Aka the Butterfly Farm, it not only houses multitudes of stunning butterflies in all stages of their life cycle but also exhibits other insects, a selection of reptiles, spiders and scorpions and a pool full of glittering koi carp.

I was amused to discover that us Zimbabweans got a mention too, and for science rather than politics for a change.

It only seems fitting then that they also keep a few chongololos on display. Any of you who hail from Southern Africa will know what I mean.

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