My most dangerous shot
Bushmaster (Lachesis muta)
A heart-stopping honour, one that I will always be grateful for capturing, but an encounter that could have gone one of two ways.
As a student of University of Glasgow, I was a lucky member of the exploration society to be selected for a conservation expedition, to travel to Trinidad. This expedition was planned after my graduation in 2014 and we spent 10 weeks researching amphibians, leatherback turtles and bats.
So how did I cross paths with the most domineering reptile on the island? Well naturally in the field we were immersed in wildlife, and upon a busy night catching and identifying bats, this individual decided to observe.
On a night like any other, well for a conservation expedition, me and three students were hiking through the jungle in Rio Seco, Trinidad. At 100% humidity, scaling a pathway riddled with tree-roots to then construct 10 meter netting was an intense evening to say the least. As the sun set, bat communities fluttered in numbers which gripped our focus, but distracted us from a true threat.
In terms of surveying bats we needed to catch them, carefully help them out of the net, bag and identify them at our work station. We had three nets set up, which quickly became two due to the numbers and the pace was hard to keep on top on to ensure the bats we released in a quick manner. A good night for surveying and an opportune moment for a predator.
A team member felt a presence, specifically underfoot, but the surveying gripped our attention and only when this was complete were we able to reconvene. In the dark of the night, we questioned whether it was anything, with all the tree matter, leaves and bats. However in scanning the pathway with our torches, something caught the corner of my eye.
A pale scaly figure stared me dead in the eye, the serpent halted me in my tracks.
The Bushmaster, the largest and most venomous snake of Trinidad made it known that we were on its turf, and we were vulnerable. For the rest of the night we were on patrol, never to take our eye off the beast. I was lucky to set-up the tripod and have my camera monitor also - catching the most dangerous shot in my life.
The team took turns and stood roughly 10meters away, but knowing this reptile could leap 3 meters in an instance, I can't say I felt safe. With a bluffing stance, we stood our ground, blinding the bushmaster with the torch, which bought us enough time to pack-up and escape the presence of this serpent.
I feel honoured to have experienced this moment, and with a team who all managed to keep their cool and allow me to capture the most memorable predator I have come across. We were extremely lucky this night turned out fairly safe. Deep in the jungle and at least 40minutes drive to the hospital that contains the anti-venom - without GPS or a smart-phone, I am very grateful nobody were bitten and mostly that nobody panicked in the heat of the moment. Take your opportunity wisely, always be aware of the wildlife you may encounter and never under-estimate nature (whether it be a snake, humidity or your instincts!)