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SARCA Press Release

March 2006


Since its launch in May 2005, the SARCA project (Southern African Reptile Conservation Assessment) has been busy!

Barend Erasmus and Bryan Maritz at Wits carried out a gap analysis for southern African reptiles. Fully 786 (39%) of the 2008 quarter-degree grid cells in the region are estimated by the SARCA gap analysis to be at least 80% under-sampled (i.e., have fewer than 20% of the expected species recorded from the grid cell). Although priority grid cells are found in almost all provinces of South Africa, the great majority are in Northern Cape and North West provinces.

Marius Burger, SARCA's Project Herpetologist, planned his first field season around these identified priority grid cells. To date he has completed eight 10-day surveys in various parts of the Northern Cape, with the help of enthusiastic and energetic volunteers. Approximately 40 surveys will be completed around the country within the 4-year SARCA period.

Although all volunteers claim to have an excellent time with Marius in the field, I wonder how many of them curse at getting themselves involved in a jaunt that requires wielding a pick and shovel in the scorching Kalahari sun? The first two days of each survey are especially taxing because it is then that the trap arrays have to be set, and that involves digging in 32 10-litre buckets that serve as pitfall traps!

Back at the SARCA offices in the Avian Demography Unit at UCT, René Navarro created a "virtual museum". This concept is the brainchild of Prof. Graham Alexander at Wits and is, to our knowledge, the first museum collection of its kind in the world.

SARCA invites all interested members of the public to take digital photographs of reptiles in the wild and to submit these along with some simple supporting information, by email, to SARCA. The images and data are processed and placed in the virtual museum collection, which is available to the world, online, as part of the SARCA website ( To date, 180 people have contributed 1000 photographic records to the SARCA virtual museum.

These "specimens", although virtual, will not lose their colour with time and will not need regular topping up with 70% alcohol! Best of all, anyone with an internet connection, anywhere in the world, can access this fascinating collection and learn from it.

South African museums have collectively accumulated approximately 49 000 reptile distribution records for South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. These records are being incorporated into an integrated SARCA database. How does the SARCA data-collection effort compare? The first seven SARCA field surveys yielded 1150 distribution records. Add to this the 1000 records in the virtual museum, and we have 2150 records that SARCA has added to the existing total. This is a 4.4% increase in distribution data in less than one year, relative to roughly a century of scientific herpetology in the region.

If we manage to maintain this productivity, by the end of the project SARCA will have added something like 18% to our store of reptile distribution records. However, we will have added considerably more than that to our knowledge because the new information will have come largely from areas where we had no information at all before. In addition, all available data will have been quality controlled and integrated into a single database, making it vastly easier to use and analyse.

So, where does SARCA stand in March 2006? In short, SARCA is at the brink of having an integrated database of reptile records which will allow us to map the distributions of species. Although the database will be updated as new records become available, especially from the next three field seasons, it will allow work on SARCA's core activity to begin, namely, assessing the conservation status of species.

Marius SARCA's Project Herpetologist, Marius Burger, with a trap full of reptiles, in the Northern Cape.   baby lizard
A baby sand lizard on the tip of a finger.
The 4X4 Eco Challenge bakkie handles a Kalahari dune.

James Harrison   
SARCA Project Coordinator   


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 27 March 2006 ]

    May 30, 2024, 3:12 am