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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

3 November 2010

The Fact of Leeches

It’s the morning after Ann and John have left to return to England, and we’re riding on the back of motorbikes over dirt tracks through bucolic Tharu villages in the early morning light. The ride is fun and the people and rural scenes around us are great. We’re going to another spot on the Karnali river to look for river dolphins, but it turns out to be unsuccessful again.

Bardia NP is a tough place to look for wildlife; dense jungle and grass high enough to hide an elephant, and the three iconic species here (tiger, rhino, river dolphin) exist in very low numbers (estimated 30, 20 and 3 respectively). We have at least seen three kinds of deer, wild boar, mongoose, langurs and macaques. We also saw a large bull Asian elephant from the top of a watchtower. Some other visitors were walking right towards it, so our guide shouted a warning – you should have seen how quickly their guide started running! Anyway, we have also seen smooth-coated otters, our own target species, so it would be churlish to label Bardia a disappointment.

Oh yes. Leeches. The fear of leeches has been with us in the jungles of Madagascar and the hills of Kathmandu, but now it has become the fact of leeches. On our first day here Maureen got two on her ankle, tiny ones, but the wound bled for over an hour. The next day in the long grasses we each pulled at least a half-dozen off our trousers and shirts, including a couple of large ones that were unnervingly high up my trouser leg. So here’s the low-down, if you’ve never encountered one.

They are thin and slimey, the large ones about matchstick size the small ones like a bit of burnt candlewick. They move like some caterpillars do, doubling up then stretching out. They definitely smell blood – move your finger about in front of one and it will stretch unerringly towards the digit. The bite doesn’t hurt, but they sting a little after being pulled off, and then the anti-coagulant in their saliva keeps the wound going for ages. They are entirely the grossest things on earth and nothing else comes close.

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4 Responses to “The Fact of Leeches”

  1. Nessa says:

    Oh no, I hoped you would have escaped them!! I remember not noticing my leech bite in Taman Negara in Malaysia til I was in the shower after my days trek…. Yuk!!

    Don’t let it ruin your memories of the place though :-)


    • shortclaws says:

      Maureen liked her leeches so much that we’ve already signed up to visit some more rainforests in Thailand – in search of otters, of course.

  2. Elle says:

    One does not have to travel to the ends of the earth to encounter leeches. I was canoeing in the Boundry Waters between the US and Canada, when I had to pull one (small) from my ankle.

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