Much as I enjoy wandering around the fascinating tropical areas of Asia, there are times when I’m pretty glad I live in New Zealand. As I sit here right now (about midnight), in my awning outside my tiny house caravan, I can hear loud rustling outside amongst the dry leaves – the rustlings of a nocturnal creature of some sort. I am remaining fairly calm about this, because I know the odds are it’s just Russell, the avocado-eating prickle-critter. Russell won’t eat me. He just eats snails, slugs, cat biscuits (stolen ones taste best) and avocados. I think that’s why he lives around my tiny house – it’s situated under a plum tree and an avocado tree, and lately it’s been raining avos down so hard that it pays to wear a helmet outside. A veritable feasting ground for a prickle-critter.
But it just occurred to me that if I was living in some of the parts of Asia I’ve seen, those rustlings outside would be a whole lot creepier. In India, they could be the rustlings of a tiger, or a rabid monkey or a cobra. In Thailand they could be a rabid street dog, an escaped and somewhat unbalanced elephant or buffalo (neither of which is a happy option) or also a cobra. In Cambodia, well, I’m not entirely sure what creeps around Cambodia at night but I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t want to meet one.
New Zealand is great like that. We don’t have scary animals. We don’t have snakes. And we don’t have leeches. The only dodgy spider we have is one that popped over from Australia – the white tail spider. Nasty, aggressive little so-and-so’s they are, that look like torpedos on legs and have a distinctive white tip on their hind ends. They don’t make their own webs, so they tend to hide around your house, in your shoes or under your mattress or amongst the washing pile you really should have folded yesterday. They eat our good spiders and if they bite humans, some people get rather nasty reactions and swell up all over the place. I’m giving serious consideration to ringing the Ozzies up and asking them to come and take the little blighters back. I sure as heck hope they don’t decide to send some of their crocodiles our way.
New Zealand used to be part of the supercontinent Gondwanaland, but it broke off about 85 million years ago – give or take a year or two – and floated into colder climes. This caused many species of flora and fauna to die off and New Zealand developed its own unique types of plants and so on, and we ended up with mostly birds, a lizard (the tuatara) that is considered to be a living dinosaur, and the only native mammal that we can lay claim to – a very small type of bat. I’ll be writing more on here about our native creatures one of these days.
You could almost walk barefoot around the forests in New Zealand in total safety – except that in some areas you might step on razor wire set up by dope growers to stop you from stealing their stash – because we’re totally, and happily, bereft of poisonous, biting, attacking, mauling, man-eating or any other bad news types of critters.
The down side of that is that New Zealand is out and out boring when it comes to wildlife. Our forest canopies do not ring with the joyous whoops of gibbons, we’ll never know the marvelous sight of water buffalo languishing magnificently in our town water supply and I can guarantee you, without even researching it, that not one single New Zealander can lay claim to spotting a snow leopard stealing his cows.
Something I miss greatly when I return to our little garden of Eden is having lizards on the walls and ceiling. That’s the first thing I look for when I get to Asia – resident geckos. I’ve whiled away many an hour watching the little beasties poking their heads out from behind a sign or a pot plant, scuttling towards the light and gobbling up moths, mosquitoes and other night-time delights that otherwise would be accompanying me in my slumbers.
We had a gecko on our ceiling at Elephant Nature Park that made kissy noises at about 5.30 am every day, announcing the arrival of the morning light in a most romantic fashion. And a little while after that a local tokay lizard would start up with his Asian version of a cuckoo clock. You can listen to one here.
I realise that the locals don’t like tokays very much, because if you’re unlucky enough to have one fall on you, it’s like meeting up with the pitbull of the lizard world – if they bite you, they don’t let go in a hurry, and some of them are quite a healthy size, probably about as long as three mobile phones end on end. You apparently have to go and hold whatever of your limbs they’ve latched onto into a bucket of water until they need to come up for air and thus let go of you. I can well imagine that such an occurrence would stretch your sense of humor somewhat. But it was a nice way to start the day, playing spot-the-gecko, counting how many times the tokay said ‘tokay’ and then stumbling around the open-walled bathroom trying your best to avoid standing on that cute little inch-long frog that crouched in the corner by the basin.
Ahh, tropical life.
The worst scenario I’m likely to get, in my indoor/outdoor type of lifestyle, is a cockroach in my coffee cup. It’s just not the same really, is it?
Anyway, it would appear that Russell has mosied on to other places now, so all is quiet again in my little backyard jungle. Wait a minute, what was that…? Aha! Manny the Morepork owl has dropped by. Fabulous! I hope he eats cockroaches…