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SARCA Field Survey No. 1 - trip report

November 2005

Date: 29 October - 7 November 2005
Locality: Northern Cape Province, Loeriesfontein district, on farms Eselkopvlakte, Donkiedam, Loerkop and Karagas.

  trap array One of several trap arrays on first SARCA field survey.
  drift fence Erecting a drift fence to guide reptiles towards the traps.

This was the first of about 40 SARCA fieldtrips that will be conducted over three summers (2005-08). Each trip will be 10 days long, thus there are still another 390 field days left for volunteers to join in the fun and learning!

SARCA Team 1: Marius Burger (SARCA Project Herpetologist); Elsie Campher (Change Management Consultant); Thea Felmore (student, recently completed a diploma in Game Ranging and Lodge Management); Sakwa Makokho (MSc student at the University of Stellenbosch, studying the evolution of sand lizards).

SARCA team SARCA team and Cape Cobra.  

SARCA's maiden fieldtrip produced a total of 35 reptile species, comprising 24 lizard, 9 snake and 3 tortoise species. The following are a few noteworthy firsts for the project:

  lizards Colourful lizards from SARCA survey #1.
Beaked Snake A Karoo special: the Beaked Snake Dipsina multimaculata.

First reptile recorded on the first SARCA fieldtrip: a large Mole Snake Pseudaspis cana found dead on the road near Malmesbury.

First reptile captured by the first SARCA team: a Common Ground Agama Agama aculeata. This required a team effort, but it proved to be easy because the lizard foolishly chose a large drainage pipe as its escape route. With Thea entering from one side, and Sakwa approaching from the other, SARCA's first live reptile specimen was soon in hand.

First reptile captured in the pitfall and funnel traps: The very first pitfall trap that we checked on the first morning did not disappoint. It contained a species of desert lizard which was provisionally identified as Spotted Desert Lizard Meroles suborbitalis, but we still need to examine it better back at the lab to check if it's not Knox's Desert Lizard.

Comments from the volunteers:

  first live specimen Sakwa with first live specimen in hand!

Elsie: I know nothing about reptiles - I study human behaviour - so for me, participating on this field trip was a whole new experience, and I couldn't wait to learn. In fact, I soaked up everything Marius said like a sponge.

We meet along the N7 - an all-girl team, except for poor Marius! I am so looking forward to learning about reptiles. I love walking in the veld, but know that I miss so much.

The drive on the N7 became a whole new experience because we were not just scanning for cars and landscape - the tar road itself is our main focus, and it became a new world as your eyes were fixed on it for signs of creatures, dead or alive. 'Brutus', a Toyota Land Cruiser sponsored by Eco Challenge, suddenly came to a halt just before Malmesbury - a Mole Snake lying by the side of the road, killed by a car. We stopped to collect our first specimen, and I learned how to distinguish between male and female snakes. Wow! - for the first time in my life I saw this - Marius pressed the tail and out popped two white things. This was a male and it had two copulatory organs - hemepenes - and each one divides into two - which means that this male has a total of four! In retrospect, this was the most incredible learning experience of the whole trip for me.

  hemipenes Hemipenes of Mole Snake.

Provisions were bought at Vanrhynsdorp and we headed for the farm Eselkopvlakte. An old farm house was our home for the next 10 days.

We set off on a 'reckie' trip and came across a Cape Cobra - a beauty! I feel like I am watching Austin Stevens on Animal Planet as Marius gets to within 30 cm of its head to get the perfect picture. As I stand there, realising that this is LIVE, I become aware of my fear. Then I allow myself to feel the fear. As I watch how gently Marius handles this snake, a funny thing happens: the fear does not scare me anymore, it slowly disintegrates and respect and honour take its place.

The next two days were spent setting up the trap arrays: digging holes, erecting drift-fences and making funnel traps - hard work! My poor office hands will never be the same again!

  Elsie Elsie with funnel trap.
Thea Thea with Tent Tortoise.
Sakwa Sakwa building funnel traps.

I learned about spiders, lizards, agamas, beetles and scorpions. One morning a species of baboon spider managed to run up my leg under my jeans; the only way that Sakwa could catch him was for me to drop my pants, in front of everybody!

Unfortunately I had to cut my stay short, but this was a great trip, a wonderful learning experience and worth every second!

Thea: The highlights of the trip for me was finding and catching snakes, especially the Cape Cobra and Puff Adder - that was fun! My favourite lizard was the "Orange Dude", i.e., the Western Sandveld Lizard with its long bright red tail. And I just loved the two beautiful tortoises that I found: the Tent Tortoise and Speckled Padloper. Then of course the bush experience itself was great - climbing hills and stomping over Karoo vlaktes in pursuit of reptiles; driving off the beaten track on roads not shown on our GPS maps, and mastering the art of opening farm gates - about 150 in total!

Sakwa: My reason for joining the SARCA fieldtrip was to find some of the lizards that I'm studying for my MSc degree, i.e., the sand lizards of the genus Pedioplanis. Prior to this trip, I had only seen the Spotted Sand Lizard in life before, but now I've added the Namaqua and Plain sand lizards, and even the taxonomically problematic and elusive Cape Sand Lizard.

We worked hard every day, and often very late into the night, but it was a great experience, and I enjoyed the company of my interesting and funny colleagues. Oh yes, I also have to mention that being exposed to snakes daily helped me to manage my long-standing fear - well, at least partially...


SARCA is most grateful to the 4x4 Eco Challenge for providing a Toyota Land Cruiser for SARCA fieldtrips ( Father and son Karel and Riaan van der Merwe kindly provided accommodation and free range to search for reptiles on the farms Eselkopvlakte and Donkiedam. Our thanks also to the farmers who permitted surveying the reptile fauna of the properties Loerkop and Karagas.

bakkie Beauty and the beast: a beautiful cobra and Brutus, the Eco Challenge bakkie.  

Marius Burger
SARCA Project Herpetologist



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 5 Dec 2005 ]

    May 30, 2024, 3:26 am