Creatures Great and Small
Gerry LLoyd, 1968-1969
As I kept a daily diary of events in Vietnam, I discovered that there was more to the eco system than first meets the eye.
There is of course the obvious domesticated animals that you encounter in the villages, such as water buffalo and oxen, but, in nearby deep dense jungle, is where the real fauna lives.
On one occasion on patrol we had set up a defensive harbour at last light, with claymore mines and trip flares and settled down to the night routine. Then, without warning, there was a sudden "crash" as the undergrowth shuddered; this was not Vietcong, however, but a scavenging pack of wild pigs. We were caught off guard as they set off a flare, knocked over a Claymore mine, and generally caused chaos as they grunted and squealed through our position. One of the boars actually passed so close to my prone body that I saw two large tusks jutting from it's jaw but I dare not move. I also felt a sow and piglets walk right over my back as I sank deeper into the mud without moving a muscle. Luckily the pigs were more interested in vegetation than our presence and continued unabated on their noisy way.
The mosquitoes were something else though; "four engined bombers" was a good description, and it seemed that they thrived on the army insect spray and repellent. On a serious note, however, certain strains carried malaria and encephalitis, the cause of some deaths, which required protection drills, including the fogging of the Task Force Base.
On another occasion, after shaking my boots before putting them on, which was standard practice, I was stung on the knee by a large scorpion; I'm talking as big as your hand. These insects were quite common living just under the surface soil and also loved the sandy areas.The effect was numbing on my limb. I applied a pressure bandage, quickly, to restrict the flow of any poison.
Monkeys were common annoyances on patrol as their constant screeching and antics in the trees was enough to alert even a deep sleeping peasant let alone every bird in the vicinity.
Leeches were common additions to your skin in the jungle and somehow found a way to hang on to every part of the webbing and greens.
What I was really concerned about was diving headlong into the thicket and coming face to face with a snake especially a "krait " which, although small in length, is deadly in bite.I actually only saw one of these but not in South Vietnam but at Moorebank N.S.W. when it crawled out of a fumigated sea container recently returned from Vietnam.
There was also evidence that a tiger had reached the 106 OR's lines one night as the paw marks were etched in the mud. Tigers and dogs had set off trip flares before so I suppose with their sense of smell it could have been possible. Makes me wonder in hindsight. I had seen one or two tigers when flying over the jungle in choppers and I had no reason to want to get closer than that.
Another animal that is both wild and domesticated in that country of contrasts was the elephant. I only saw herds of wild ones when I was in the North of South Vietnam near Da Nang and Khe Sanh which was not far from the Laotian border.Domesticated elephants were used by the locals as forklifts and trucks, and of course by the North Vietnamese as pack animals to bring supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Yes there was some strange and somewhat dangerous creatures in Vietnam but think for a moment what a peasant from there would make of our kangaroo and echidna let alone the platypus.