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SARCA Newsletter No. 9

December 2007

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New subscribers, please visit for more information about SARCA. Previous newsletters are posted on the "Newsletters and Media" page.

Dear SARCA Supporters,



SARCA owes a huge thanks to the JRS Biodiversity Foundation for injecting new life into the project in the form of an extremely generous grant. The main interest of the foundation - to advance projects that focus on collecting data, making it more widely available to end users and interpreting it to inform policy makers - dovetails perfectly with SARCA's aim of improving our understanding of the diversity and distribution of reptiles in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, and providing conservation agencies with a clear definition of conservation priorities that will help them to plan their activities. An enormous thanks to JRS, and particularly Harry Cerino, for helping us to help the region's reptiles!


"Almost all of the SARCA field surveys to date were conducted in a variety of Toyota 4x4 bakkies, which in total clocked more than 110 000 kilometres! The value of such a sponsorship is huge, not only in terms of the financial savings for SARCA, but also for the assurance of having vehicle reliability and comfort in harsh terrains. As we enter the last of the SARCA surveys, the 4x4 Eco Challenge and Toyota have once again shown their commitment to support conservation projects." As Marius wrote these words, a handsome Toyota bakkie was parked under a big old Maroela Tree, packed with traps and equipment to explore the reptile faunas of unknown territories. Our greatest thanks to Toyota and 4x4 Eco Challenge for their support.


It is my pleasure to introduce to you four more of the professional herpers who are making valuable contributions to SARCA by, amongst other things, writing species accounts for SARCA's reptile conservation assessment (the Atlas and Red Data Book).

Krystal Tolley says: I am leader of the Molecular Ecology programme at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). Although I specialize in chameleons, my research extends to other lizards and frogs. I am particularly interested in understanding patterns of biodiversity in Southern African herps, using both DNA and ecological information. With Marius, I wrote "Chameleons of Southern Africa."


Richard Boycott says: As a snake-catching teenager in Cape Town in the 1960s I was given the opportunity to swap my Daisy pellet gun for our neighbourhood's copy of the reptile and amphibian bible - Walter Rose's "Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern Africa." It's obvious what my choice was! I have been involved in nature conservation as a researcher and manager for over thirty years in South Africa and Swaziland. With co-author Orty Bourquin, I wrote "The South African Tortoise Book" (first published in 1988 and revised in 2000). I also produced the "Swaziland Red Data Book" and "Wild Swaziland - a guide to common animals and plants." My research has mainly been directed towards amphibians (I was regional co-ordinator for Swaziland for the Frog Atlas Project) but my interests are wide, and I have also published on flowers, birds and fish. I now teach science at Waterford United World College of Southern Africa in Swaziland, and I'm a keen photographer.


Margaretha (Retha) Hofmeyr says: My research career started on mammals and upgraded to reptiles. For the past 10 years, my students and I have studied the ecology, physiology, morphology and taxonomy of tortoises in South Africa. One-third of the world's tortoise species occur in southern Africa, but this diversity is probably underestimated. In view of the reptile conservation assessment, we currently focus efforts on genetic and morphological studies to update the taxonomy of southern African tortoises.


James Harrison says: My early interest in herps received a boost when my parents gave me a copy of "The Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern Africa" by Walter Rose, for Christmas 1966. My mother showed great forbearance in experiences such as frogs escaping around her feet while driving, and discovering snakes in my sock drawer. My Zoology Honours projects were on herps (chameleon respiration and platanna hybridization), but then I was distracted by birds for a while. Even before the bird atlas was complete, I was dreaming of a frog atlas, so it was thrilling to be contacted by Phil Bishop and Les Minter with the same idea. The frog atlas project was a real career highpoint and the contribution I am most proud of. The next step was to get a similar project going for reptiles, and with the support of key people like Graham Alexander, Bill Branch, Marius Burger and my boss Les Underhill, SARCA became a reality. I hope that SAFAP and SARCA will lead to a much greater awareness of the conservation needs of southern African herps.


Please note the old email address for Virtual Museum records is no longer active. Submissions should be sent to

Thanks to all of you who have submitted photos for the VM since the last newsletter. In November, we once again received more than 200 photos! There have been some delays in uploading these, largely due to a space problem on our server. We will be addressing this issue in the New Year and hope that uploading will be far quicker as a result. But rest assured that we value all contributions highly, and they will all find their way into the VM.

Here are a couple of fantastic photos from amongst the last 500 records, which caught my attention because of my special interest in animal behaviour...

Hard to swallow: Homoroselaps lacteus eating Duberria lutrix , by G. van Zyl (SARCA 3125) Mating pair of Pedioplanis pulchella, by N.A. Helme (SARCA 3146)
Psammophis notostictus with bird, by K. Bosman (SARCA 3195) Finger supper? Meroles ctenodactylus, by C. Dorse & S. van Rooyen (SARCA 3240)
Psammophis subtaeniatus eating Amietia angolensis, by K. Abram (SARCA 3368) Varanus albigularis albigularis duo, by K. Abram (SARCA 3369)
Cordylus niger gets grubby, by A. Hodgson & H. McBurnie (SARCA 3455) Chondrodactylus bibronii female with egg, by D. Maguire (SARCA 3484)

(photos by John Measy and Krystal Tolley)

Recipe for Reptile Identification Stew:

  • Gather 20 or so professional herpers (fresh ingredients are best but not essential) from far and wide;
  • Tenderise by subjecting herpers to several days of an intensive workshop of Atlas authors (many thanks to SANBI for hosting and funding this);
  • Mix above in a conducive environment (thanks to Krystal and John for providing the venue);
  • Add a generous portion of beer and pizza;
  • Stir well and leave to brew until identifications come to a fast boil.

    Gathering of herpers at the Second SARCA Authors' Workshop, hosted and funded by SANBI Graham Alexander modestly receives praise from Martin Whiting (left) and John Measy (right) for the new book which he co-authored with Johan Marais: A Guide to the Reptiles of Southern Africa)
    Tempers flare when identifications are in doubt: Bill Branch (left) unaware that he has roused the wrath of Aaron Bauer (right) Pizza and beer go far to calm frazzled nerves
    Bryan Maritz does an excellent impression of an enraged Meroles ctenodactylus Johan Marius lets (his?) hair down. Krystal Tolley looks on enviously.

    Wishing all of you a wonderful festive season and all the best for 2008. Be safe, happy and healthy, and keep your cameras clicking!

    Marienne de Villiers
    From 1 January 2008, the Avian Demography Unit (or the ADU for short) will become the Animal Demography Unit (still the ADU). What prompted this? Ever since the ADU initiated the frog atlas project a decade ago in 1998, there have been issues with the name Avian Demography Unit - "Why is the Avian Demography Unit doing the frog atlas?" This inconsistency has recently been heightened by our involvement with projects on reptiles (Southern African Reptile Conservation Assessment, effectively the reptile atlas), and with butterflies (Southern African Butterfly Conservation Assessment, the butterfly atlas), and with five postgraduate students doing PhD and MSc projects on seals, one on rare mammals in Namibia and even one on dwarf chameleons.
    Although the academic world thrives on these kinds of delightful contradictions, there is no need to perpetuate them for ever. So we will change our name, so it better describes what we do. We also change our host department at the University of Cape Town, resolving another anachronism, moving from the Department of Statistical Sciences to the Department of Zoology.
    The new ADU website address will be We remain in the same offices, and all our contact details are unchanged.

    Les Underhill (ADU Director)


    Building funnel traps (photos by Marius and Marcel Witberg)

    Ever wondered how we find so many reptiles on the SARCA surveys? Well, other than physically searching for them by day and night, we also erect trap arrays. These arrays consist of drift-fences that are set in combination with pitfall and funnel traps (see the SARCA trip reports for examples of traps). Eight arrays are set per trip, each with four pitfall and six funnel traps. The funnel traps are particularly useful for catching snakes, but to make 48 of them is a considerable effort. So this year the Cape Reptile Club and Cape Nature offered to lend a hand. On 5 August a group of 20 persons gathered at the Driftsands Educational Centre for the mass-construction of funnels. That old saying of 'many hands make light work' certainly proved apt in this particular case, because by the end of the day we had about 60 complete funnels, and a good stack more that only required the cones to be attached. I was rather chuffed! For more details and photos of this event, check out Marcel Witberg's trap-building report.

    SARCA would like to thank the Cape Reptile Club for sponsorship, and acknowledge the assistance of the following people:

  • Johanita Alberts – Cape Nature
  • Ryno Bezuidenhout – Cape Reptile Club
  • Hanlie Engelbrecht – University of Cape Town
  • Julien Erwin – Honoree Ranger (SANParks)
  • Francis Harrison and friend
  • James Harrison – University of Cape Town (ADU)
  • Mornι Havenga – Cape Reptile Club
  • Lourance Klose – Cape Reptile Club
  • Nicky Klose – Cape Reptile Club
  • Michael Mbana – Cape Nature
  • Siyabulele Mendlake – Cape Nature
  • Khaleel Parker – Cape Reptile Club
  • Lynn Parker – Cape Reptile Club
  • Eric Pietersen – Cape Nature
  • Ruedi Siegenthaler – Cape Reptile Club
  • Yzelle Symington – Cape Nature
  • Rudie van Zyl – Cape Reptile Club
  • Marcel Witberg – Cape Reptile Club

    The Reptile People of Kliprand

    Did you know that in the small village of Kliprand doer and gone in Namaqualand lives a small group of people that has decided to use reptiles as a tourist attraction? I didn't believe it at first, but on the insistence of Malinda Gardiner who heads the Hardeveld Tourism Centre in Bitterfontein, I went to investigate. I was accompanied by Rajka Kleine and Michael Fabricius, and they can bear testimony to the authenticity of this tale.

    It is indeed all true – and I have pictures to prove it. We received a warm welcome into the Kliprand community and in no time we had loads of newly found friends. I will never forget Bettie Klaaste's lovely meals and her witty sense of humour. After presenting a SARCA lecture to the children of Nuwefontein Primary School, a bunch of us swarmed to the rocky hills of the farm Karagas. Lizards were plentiful, including the charismatic Armadillo Girdled Lizard. A Spotted House Snake was initially not very popular with the kids, but after some encouragement they all eventually got to grips with it. Back in the village the ladies were painting tortoises, lizards and snakes onto pillow cases and handbags – a truly colourful celebration of the regions reptile fauna. For more information on the Kliprand artists and the tourism centre, visit and click on Hardeveld Route.

    Marius Burger
    South African National Biodiversity Institute Herpetological Association of Africa Avian Demography Unit

    SARCA is a joint project of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the Herpetological Association of Africa (HAA), and the Avian Demography Unit (ADU), Department of Statistical Sciences, University of Cape Town.




    [ Document posted on 28 August 2007 ]

        May 30, 2024, 1:47 am