Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar (3 of 3) – Surviving the wildlife

This is a bit of a PSA-type post on the animals you might come across at KTJ.

LONG TAILED MACAQUE Macaca fascicularis
KTJ has a substantial monkey population. My seniors told me that the giant cages around the school are monkey traps. This species is aggressive by nature. They can be solitary, or move in groups of around 40-50 (I counted).

How to identify: long tails (usually longer than their bodies), looks like a monkey.
Where: the “jungle” opposite the houses, the houses’ rooftops, near the 6th Form Centre (on exeats)

  • do not engage.
  • do not taunt. They can and will give chase.
  • do not feed.
  • do not leave your windows open.
  • if they bare their teeth, they are being aggressive.
  • always assume that they are being aggressive.

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All these pictures are a bit blurry as they were taken from a distance. Be careful when walking near the “jungle”areas near the houses. It can be quite difficult to spot them in the trees. They might jump you if you have food.

MONITOR LIZARDS Varanus salvator or nebulosus
The school is also home to monitor lizards. You can tell between the clouded monitor (V.nebulosus) and the water monitor (V.salvator) by their general head size and position of their nostrils. V.nebulosus is generally more common here. Juveniles have more defined spots, are more slender and have smaller claws; adults have fainter spots, are more stocky in build and have long untrimmed claws. They move fast and if you look closely you can see little flies following them around.

How to identify: It’s a big lizard. Almost always solitary.
Where: everywhere. Most likely to be seen on the ground, climbing up trees or swimming in the school lake.

  • do not chase.
  • do not hunt or attempt to eat.
  • avoid being bitten – risk of bacterial infection.
  • watch where you are going – easily mistaken for tree roots.

CHANGEABLE LIZARD Calotes versicolor
It’s really neat to watch them during breeding season. If you watch the males closely you can see them inflating their throats (to attract mates) or doing little pushups (to deter the competition).

How to identify: During breeding season (June-July) males turn redder and are more territorial; they will also have a distinctive black ventro-lateral mark. Females are duller. Both male and female have a short crest above the neck.



There are also lots of bees around. Bees make up the bulk of all animals I catch remove from the boarding house.

What I’d do if I got stung: skip the house matron and head to the health centre.

Greater banded hornet Vespa tropica
I have only had to remove a couple of these from friends’ rooms. They do not take too kindly to being trapped and will charge at the walls of whatever is being used to trap them.

  • the greater banded is highly aggressive (attacks known to be fatal)
  • venomous

Unidentified bee species Apis sp.

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Hive behind Alia house.

I found one hive near the Arts Centre, one on the starfruit tree behind Alia and another near the admin block. Sometimes the hives can go undiscovered for a good couple of months.

This might be the dwarf honey bee (A. andreniformis) but I am not entirely sure. We get this kind in our rooms relatively often. Once one of these landed in my mug before it ruptured its pollen sac (interesting, but not a pretty sight). I can usually catch these with my bare hands as they are less  likely to sting.

Giant honey bee Apis dorsata
I’ve only seen one such hive in KTJ; it was near the Arts Centre. The shape of the hive is distinctive, and are hanging unlike the previous species which you would notice clings more to the branch rather than hanging from it. Reproductive swarming usually takes place at the end of the year.

A.dorsata hives are generally high up, and asymmetrical in shape. You can’t really tell from the picture because of the bees.
It is not advisable to get this close.

This species is very aggressive. What you see in the pictures above is a form of colony defense consisting of layers and layers of bees (the actual hive is quite flat)

IMG_2275 (2).jpgThe school actually managed to find this hive after a week or so (it was in a more obvious location than usual).

I almost got a faceful of bees when I went out for breakfast that morning. It was brilliant to watch birds darting about to catch them, but a little less pleasing have bees slowly dying all over the school a few hours later.

I managed to collect some specimens to study up close and pin.


Snakes are a scarily exciting reality in KTJ. I’ve seen 2 in classrooms, 1 in the drain, 1 near the MPH and a few while out on my nature walks. A snake even fell on one of my housemates (I’m envious, of course).

Below is the paradise tree snake caught in one of the classrooms. My classmate was giving a presentation (right in front of the SMARTboard) when this snake suddenly appeared.

The one I saw near the MPH was black and orange but slithered away too fast for identification. I hope it wasn’t a Malayan krait.

There was also a slender, bright green snake in the drain near the pond. The only Malaysian snakes that come to mind are the Malayan whip snake and Oriental whip snake, both of which are only mildly venomous.

The ones I see on my walks tend to be darker in colour. I can’t tell which these are as they slither around my feet pretty quickly.

Preventive measures:

  • don’t go about running in the grass
  • watch your step
  • learn to identify some common Malaysian snakes
  • sneakers, not flip flops

If you see a snake:

  • stand as still as possible, then move away slowly. Might not always work.
  • if it looks like it is about to strike, that might be a good time to run.
  • for the love of God, don’t scream.
  • don’t touch it. don’t get nearer.
  • don’t try to hit it with a stick.
  • don’t try to kill it.

What to do if you’ve been bitten:

  • try to remember what the snake looked like (pay attention to length, general shape, colour, locality) or take a picture.
  • get help, preferably from the health centre (although I don’t know if they have antivenom handy)
  • probably not try to suck the venom out. I don’t think it really works that way.
  • Tip: if they’re in the water they are more likely to be venomous. All 33 Malaysian water snakes are.

Both the huntsman spiders I caught from the house (one from my friends room and the other from underneath the bathroom sink) were small. The biggest one I’ve seen is about the size of my palm but got away. The legs can grow up to 5 inches long, and the body about an inch. To put that into perspective, a big spider might fit nicely into a circle with a 6 inch radius (i.e. hand-sized).

The spiders do bite and are venomous, although only slightly. The venom is said to contain neurotoxins.

Female huntsman spider
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Male huntsman spider – about half the size of the female
IMG_5037 (2).jpg
Small by huntsman spider standards.


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KTJ is a brilliant place for birding. Some of the birds, like the blue tailed bee eater (Merops philippinus), black naped oriole (Oriolus chinensis) and the white throated kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis) are easy to  spot but very hard to photograph.

Some of my best birding moments in KTJ were never captured on camera. There was the time when a bird dropped a dead rat it had been eating from atop a tree in front of Irinah; the time when a Common Flameback pair hopped after each other around the tree near the school lake; all the times that the two black-naped orioles flew about together in the evenings; watching swifts catch their prey on the wing or dipping their wings into the lake water…

My personal favourite was the time when a little Eurasian tree sparrow landed next to an unattended tray in the dining hall and helped itself to some rice.

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There are way too many cats in KTJ. There is a feral dog somewhere as well. Chances are that these cats belong to, or will belong to, one of the staff.

How to identify: Two pointy cat ears, cat-eyes, whiskers, four legs.

  • if you are allergic to cats, avoid them like the plague.
  • if you have cats in your house, keep your room doors closed. Cats do not knock and have no qualms about trespassing. Most are also unable to differentiate between floor and litterbox.


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Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you might find an animal carcass that doesn’t get disposed of for a few weeks. This is particularly interesting from a scientific perspective as you can watch decomposition in action. My only regret is not documenting the process properly.

The Scenery

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