Okinawa Pit Vipers, or ‘Habu’ as they are called locally, inhabit every regional environment throughout Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands. Whilst two of the three main species are found in the North, all three can be encountered in the Southern regions of the island. The most prolific and common of the three is the Princess or ‘Hime’ Habu. Relatively sluggish in its movements it has been known to bite those who inadvertently step on it during nocturnal hours and people tending crops or other agricultural capacities. Whilst uncomfortable the bite of a Princess Habu is not life threatening, so much so that anti-venom is not produced. If one however should be bitten immediate medical attention is suggested.
Pulling on my boots I headed out into the night air. I had been asked by a friend, another photographer who had also been commissioned for the recent SK-II Cosmetics Shoot in Okinawa, whether I knew of a place to chill out away from the noise of the Southern more touristy regions of the island. He had one last day, a vehicle and a desire to see the more rural side of Okinawa. I knew just the place. We’d journeyed up the Western coastline of the island via Route 58, stopping every now and then to take advantage of the combination of clear skies and rough Oceans for some imaging along the way. I’d been to this same village in 2016 in order to shoot a small series of films entirely on an iPhone6S Plus, in fact the very phone I carry now.
Oku Village, where the Forests meet the Ocean is a perfect place to rest up and get away from the rat race as it were. And it is just a stones throw from the boundaries of the newly created Yanbaru National Park. It was into this inky and dark expanse of forests into which I was currently headed. Just the sounds of nature, running water and the soft pad of my boots on the ground to keep me company, perfection. My buddy had opted to stay in the homestay with the affable local owner drinking beer and the odd(?) tipple of regional hooch.
At night time in the forest one needs to have their wits about them. Many of the critters take flight well before we get to see them or they stay almost perfectly camouflaged against the leaf litter, mosses and vegetation. A particular setting in which one needs that heightened sense of awareness is anywhere where there could be running water, for these are the favoured hunting grounds for any one of the species of Okinawa Pit Vipers. I happened on my first drainage ditch about 30mins into the walk, and it was with careful scanning of the area that I was able to make out the diminutively coiled outline of a medium sized Habu, the one pictured above. Whilst not ‘over the moon’ to see me or indeed with my advances for imaging my serpentine model would make lunges toward me especially once the camera flashes had fired. I imagine the heat build up in the strobes was playing havoc with its infra red heat sensory organs.
Shooting with a Tamron 90mm f2.8 allowed me a certain amount of distance to the target, fortunately just outside of its lung range it seemed but total respect and concentration is needed when dealing with these unpredictable subjects. After some 12 images I was happy with my lot. I bid the snake farewell said a small thank you and set about my way. The snake was, after all, very much aware of my presence, a tad pissed at times but we eventually seemed to accept each others presence and my imaging demands. This was my first solo encounter with this more common of the Okinawa Pit Vipers, but something tells me it won’t be my last. Watch this space…
PS: If you wanna get a real close look at this guy scroll to the top of this web page, click that little circle in the right hand corner with two arrows in it, and step back…!