‘Financially, emotionally and in terms of the pain or even death, I’m taking a calculated risk.’ Ron Lilley, Herpetologist
And aren’t we all?
For the seekers and adventurers among us, there are many alternative maps to existence in this universe. But fear can limit endeavour. What are you willing to risk to answer the call? Ron Lilley looks fear in the eye on a daily basis and has all out embraced his curiosity in the natural world.
‘When other kids were off to football matches on Saturday afternoons, me and my mates were off to Bradgate Park in Leicestershire turning over dead deer and re-discovering carnivorous burying beetles that had not been seen for one-hundred years.’
Imagine if Ron had simply followed the crowd to the football for fear of not fitting in. Or as the underbelly of the decaying carcass was revealed, Ron had turned away; his fascination capped. Imagine if fear had stolen these pivotal, enduring, kindling sparks of his fascinating life. How many of these moments do we miss? We feel the magic rise in the pit of our stomach but we smother it quickly. For fear of the hard work we must do, or worse still, fear of revealing our true nature.
Ron’s inquiring mind has led him deep into the fire: working in zoos, handling rare and private animal collections, hitch-hiking to North Africa, surveying primary tropical rain-forest in Seram, catching crocodiles with convicted drug-dealers in Panama, volcano dodging in Krakatau and doing his best not to be taken hostage in Papua New Guinea. Ron’s life to date is anything but ordinary and he’s now in his element, surrounded by, and taming, the most dangerous and feared creatures of Indonesia.
We’re beneath the towering Balinese volcanoes of Batur and Agung. The morning sun cascades yellow through the gaps in the abundant jungle canopy that surrounds Ron’s home. The sound of running water, playful birds, waves of incessant insects, barking dogs and amorous reptiles fill the air with the miracle of life. It’s no coincidence that this fascinating world adventurer has found his way to this magical spot of natural beauty and wild diversity.
‘When I think about my time as a kid in England and in Europe, I saw snakes like these only on TV. Now I live in a place where they pass through the garden.’
This comment prompts me to nervously scan the immediate area around my feet. Balinese photographers Baru, Made and Wayan are mainly terrified of snakes. It’s a cultural thing. There are some incredibly deadly beasts on the island and most Indonesians have stories of family members or friends who’ve been bitten and died. The local trio offer the writhing subjects of our shoot a respectful radius.
We’re all a little apprehensive in Ron’s snake room too. It wouldn’t be a place I, or any of my Indonesian media cohort, would consider taking a break – their innate fear is adding an extra edge to proceedings. It’s tight, and musky. There are live rats, eye-shields, shed skins and all manner of unfamiliar paraphernalia. This, in addition to the twenty-or-so rescued serpents extolling various mysterious, silent, slippery and fanged capacities of nightmarish note. Our eyes hurry around the enclosure for evidence of any clumsily closed lids.
‘I’m not going to open this one. She’s a big cobra and she spits.’
Ron’s comment is met with frank approval from all of us.
He moves from the spitter to a shorter, plumper, green snake with red eyes and a red tail. Baru, Made and Wayan back towards the door.
‘Lipi Gadang’ they gasp, as if the devil himself has been unmasked.
‘This green pit viper bites more people here in Bali than any other snake. They come out after dark and they come down to the ground. People step on them. Folk are treated for bites from this snake every week. And there’s no anti-venom for it in all of Indonesia.’
We urge Ron to be careful.
‘If it strikes, there’s nothing you can do. It’s much faster than any human reaction.’ We aren’t wholly reassured.
‘Snake venom is a cocktail of sixty to a hundred different chemicals. You will feel immediate, extreme pain and an immediate swelling. It can swell so much, it can split. The tissue dies, goes black and ultimately the meat falls off the bone.’
Nope! We move on.
‘Here’s Bali’s most dangerous snake.’
Oh, thank God.
‘The Malayan or blue krait. It’s a member of the cobra family. When it bites people, they can be dead within the hour.’
Despite some of the more exciting stories he’ll hold court with, Ron is incredibly grounded and grounding. He’s packed with knowledge and inspiration from a life fully lived. His connection to nature and willingness to embrace curiosity over fear has provided him a life map to abundance and adventure.
Like the myriad reticulations on Ron’s prized python, Diva, there are many colours, patterns, ebbs and flows on the surface. When you look a bit closer, in a new light, there’s a lush, blue sheen to Diva’s skin. The question is, are you brave enough to look more closely? Will you turn over the deer? Are you ready to face your fear and for the hard work you’ll find when you answer the call to your true self?
In the modern world, Ron’s path can be considered alternative, but he has found delight and peace of mind through his passion and there is much to learn from this inspiring man.
‘If the diver always thought of the shark, he would never lay hands on the pearl.’ SA’DI
RON’S TOP TOOLS FOR FINDING PEARLS
I’m happy here. I’m on this beautiful island with my amazing Javan wife. I’ve a wonderful son who’s a guitarist in a band. And it’s only by being engaged and interested in the world around me and by taking opportunities that have come my way that I find myself in this lucky position. It’s important to maintain an inquiring mind and to want to learn about the world around you.
I read Herman Hess, Alan Watts and books by other Westerners who’ve searched for Eastern wisdom. I enjoy a little yoga. I’ve read the holy books and I’ve been a student for transcendental meditation. They’re all tools to bring me into presence and, without a doubt, my connection to nature and animals has also rooted me in the present moment.
Challenge your perceptions
Snakes in general don’t have a spikey nature. There is a common misrepresentation of snakes in silly films like Snakes On A Plane and Anaconda. I’ve known snakes a long time and they have many of the same characteristics of dogs, cats and other more common types of pets. Our mind can create obstacles and monsters that aren’t there. Because cultural fears prevent local people from going down the riverbanks at night, this is the place where the wildlife is the safest. This is where I’ll find some of the most amazing natural wonders.
Plan, but not too much
Snakes slither into my path. Literally. And I wander into theirs. I go with the flow. I’ve accepted short-term contracts that have blessed me with some of my greatest life experiences all over the world. Without a willingness to receive new opportunity, adapt and dance while the music plays, the world could look very different for me today.
As much as developing a passion, or specificity, can be fuel towards your creativity and worldly joy, it can also be isolating. The key is having people to bounce ideas off and to enthuse with; it’s really important. And for networks, social media is a gift.
MORE ON RON
You can follow Ron on Facebook @ronlilleybalisnakepatrol
Ron continually campaigns for the availability of snake-specific anti-venoms in Indonesia. Read his popular article, ‘Snakebite’ in the Jakarta Post, which highlights the issue.