Dinomynas, flying lizards, other local wildlife

Following my post regarding Nigel’s attempts to kill me, I remembered another myna story, a magazine piece I’d written years ago. How did mynas come to figure so large in my life?

I’m lying there by the pool with last night’s wine pouring out of me, dozing and reading Roddy Doyle by turns, my own Muse stirring within, a touch of the Irish in her voice, rousing me, from time to time, to sit up and drip ink and sweat all over my notebook, brain bubbling away and the whole of the Marina Phuket staff whispering in the shadows as though they have never before heard of mad dogs and suchlike out in Phuket’s midday sun, and I’m lying there just as though I’ve never heard of skin cancer or even heatstroke. Then I hear the dinosaur.

Just a faint roar from the other side of the jungled hillside. A Tyrannosaurus rex. I know this because much of the wine pumping from my pores was imbibed at Dino Park the night before, and I am already acquainted with this Hollywood-standard dinosaur theme park, mini-golf, and restaurant/bar, complete with life-sized dinosaurs of various persuasions and a volcano that erupts every now and then, causing one to spill wine in one’s lap and look around to see who else is thinking of fleeing wildly in all directions.

But that was last night. Now I’m sitting by the pool and I’m watching a myna bird strut across the poolside patio, and it looks just like a dinosaur walking. Not that I’ve ever seen a dinosaur walk. But I have seen Jurassic Park, where the velociraptors or whatever walked — I now realize — exactly like mynahs. Scientists have pretty well established that birds in general are the dinosaurs’ closest living relatives, mind you, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised to see this myna do the Thunder Lizard Strut.

My club sandwich and fries arrive. Within seconds, I have six myna birds gathered ’round, all of them trying to look as much like dinosaurs as possible. Like big dinosaurs. Literally, they have erected their plumage till they look twice as big as they really are. Chances are they’ve been watching the Discovery Channel, out front in the lobby, and are inflated with the knowledge of their proud ancestry. The subtext, of course, is this: “Back away from the food, human, and run. Hope that we are diverted long enough you can make your getaway.”

Seeing that I intend to hang tough, they employ new tactics. One of them hops right up on the little lounge-side table and leers at my food while two others sneak around behind me on a diversionary mission. But I’m on to them. Foiled again, they begin to get really imaginative. I’ve already been treated to a cacophony of jungle noises, some of them reminiscent of Jurassic Park. One of these avian muggers starts barking, no doubt hoping I’ve been savaged by a pit bull as a child and will now abandon the goodies and run for my room. Another is making a noise like a motorbike horn. Yet another, a ratty street thug with a switchblade, probably figuring I’m deaf or something, has taken to whetting his bill on the poolside pavement. I experience little success in teaching these individuals how to pronounce “bugger off,” although you’d think that would be easy for such obviously talented mimics.

I survive both the attempted mugging and the hangover, as it turns out, and get to enjoy both club sandwich and fries. But, in the course of one day at this excellent Phuket resort hotel, I see lots more wildlife, some of it even more exotic than the dinomynas.

Take the flying lizards, for example … No, no — the hangover has fled by this time, and I am on a strict tea-and-lemonade regimen. I swear. I’m taking tea on the front porch of my room and reading and, on some level, I’m aware of dead leaves drifting down from the jungle foliage. Just as I happen to look up, then, one “leaf” resolves itself as a 10cm lizard, which is at that moment landing on a tree in front of me. My first flying lizard. I sit still, trying to see it better, but it senses my presence and, as lizards will, it scoots, quick as a thought, to the other side of the tree.

Strange to think that the mynas are more closely related to dinosaurs than is this flying reptile, which could be a miniature version of some Spielberg monster. In fact, many millions of years ago one ancient group of Archosaurian reptiles, which included dinosaurs, developed the capacity for real flight — these were the creatures that went on to evolve into the birds. A second group of archosaurs, the pterodactyls and so on, evolved the power to soar and glide, but their wings were mere skin, and lacked the features that made actual flight possible. The flying lizards at Marina Phuket represent a third distinct evolutionary experiment with flight. They also are capable only of soaring and gliding. Either side, between their front and rear limbs, six or seven elongated ribs fan out to support tight drums of skin stretching from arm to leg. Just before the lizard lands on a perch, it swoops sharply upwards, settles, and then folds its “wings” in against its body to go about its business just as though it was your standard-issue lizard.

Visitors get to see all this without ever leaving the hotel grounds. And this is not even to mention the friendly squirrels, or the various tropical birds that flit among the foliage of what amounts to a botanical garden. Or the many vivid butterflies. Depending on the season, visitors may be treated to a squadron of scarlet dragonflies, for instance, engaged in a brief dogfight over the pool with a giddy aerial circus of yellow and orange butterflies.

There’s plenty more as well. And, of course, if you tire of this living fauna, there’s always Dino Park, just over the hill.

Alternatively, a half-day trip will take you to Phuket’s Khao Phra Thaeo forest reserve, which harbours plenty of wildlife, which you may even see, if you have the patience to sit still long enough for the animals to appear. Or you can travel off the island to Koh Sok National Park, on the neighbouring mainland. Gibbons are not uncommonly sighted by hikers here, while wild elephants and tigers still inhabit the remoter recesses of the forest. And there are all the islands up and down the coast, where you stand a good chance of spotting sea eagles, hornbills, crab-eating macaques, and otters at play in the surf. Beneath the sea, of course, there are coral reefs and tens of thousands of marine animal species. Special treats for visiting scuba divers are the whale sharks and manta rays that frequent some of the offshore islands and rock pinnacles.

Or you can just hang around your hotel, depending on where you stay, and see what unlikely creature pops up next, raising the question of whether this thing is really real or merely a side-effect of too much wine and the midday sun.

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