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SARCA Field Survey No. 8 - trip report

October 2006     

Date: Date: 10 - 19 February 2006
Locality: Locality: Northern Cape Province, west of Strydenberg, on farms Omdraaisvlei, Goodhope, Botterkraal, Bothaville, Loerkop and Kareehoek.

trap array Trap array at the foot of a rocky hill.   trap array Trap array in dense grass.

traps array Clearing a trap array in scrubby habitat.   trap array Clearing traps in open grassland.

SARCA Team 8:

Marius Burger: SARCA Project Herpetologist.
Marlei Martins: Wildlife Lover.
Sarah Whitelaw: Journalist for a horseracing magazine.
Themba Mathebula: Research Assistant with Northern Cape Nature Conservation Service.

  Team 8
SARCA Team 8: Themba, Marlei and Sarah - a nervous lot. (Marius must be a part-time snake charmer.)

Marius's comments:

Snakes! We found our fair share - 36 of them during the eight field days. These ranged from the very common Brown House Snake (14 specimens), to the seldom seen Cape Coral Snake (6 specimens!), and novelties such as Schinz's Beaked Blind Snake (a first for me) and Sundevall's Garter Snake. And we found three Cape Cobras in a single day: one crossing the road at night, one in a funnel trap, and one that entered the house at our base at Omdraaisvlei. Our host Danielle raised the alarm and gathered her dogs and two tame meerkats like a hen would her chicks, while we quickly captured the cobra with a hook-stick and a two-step.

Coral Snake Cape Coral Snake in threat posture.   Cape Cobra Cape Cobra in threat posture.

Coral Snake Portrait of a Cape Coral Snake.   trap array Rhinotyphlops schinzi - Schinz's Beaked Blind Snake.

While on the topic of snakes, it's always been a great delight for me when I get the opportunity to introduce people to their first live-snake-in-hand experience. Themba told me that he had never touched a snake before, that he was nervous to do so, but that he wanted to, or, on second thoughts, maybe not.

It was thus with mixed feelings that Themba steadied himself after I unexpectedly slammed on brakes to stop for a Brown House Snake that crossed the road on our first night drive. The snake turned out to be in no hurry, and I nonchalantly ordered Themba to catch it. He approached, backed off, approached, hesitated - another demand from me - his arm reached out, and retracted. "Just grab it!" I shouted. Themba held his hand a few centimetres away from the snake - a quick touch followed by a rapid withdrawal. "It is completely harmless. A chicken is more dangerous. Are you scared of chickens? No? Then pick it up - gently." And he did. Themba stood there, clasping his first snake ever, holding it at arm's length, with a big smile and wild staring eyes. In fact, we were all smiling. With a "Welcome to my world…" from me, we were on the road again to search for further beasties of the night.

Themba Themba with new friends.  

The big rains of SARCA 7 were still with us on trip 8. Omdraaisvlei was now more like a lake, and it extended well over the road that we had to drive on every day when checking our traps. This was always an interesting section of our route. As we slowly drove through knee-deep water, we viewed shoals of Giant Bullfrog tadpoles, swarms of new metamorphlings, a Marsh Terrapin that evaded Marlei's attempts to capture it, and at least a dozen or so species of waterfowl - this should have been a CWAC trip! (CWAC, or Coordinated Waterbird Count, is another project of the Avian Demography Unit that regularly counts the waterbirds at hundreds of wetlands across the country. See the ADU website at for more information.)

Bullfrog breeding habitat. Flooded grassland - ideal bullfrog breeding habitat.   tadpoles A swarm of bullfrog tadpoles.

tadpoles Bullfrog tadpoles in the hand.   metamorphling A Giant Bullfrog metamorphling.

We searched by day. We searched by night. We checked traps. We rolled rocks. We made notes. We photographed specimens. We catalogued specimens. We braaied at Blackie and Elsa's in Prieska. Somehow the 10 days flew by. As we drove back to Cape Town, Sarah commented that she had fallen completely into a SARCA routine: "I will probably wake up tomorrow morning, at home, confused about where to go to check the traps!"

Marlei's comments:

I'll never see rocks in the same way again! Marius' passion for reptiles (and fun) is contagious. Thanks to him I've discovered the life that lurks behind and beneath boulders that previously held very little interest for me. Every species we caught brought to life the pictures I'd seen in books. There was hard work, there was fun work, there was some not-so-fun work, but it was never boring. These 10 days have gone down in my Book of Memories - especially Rummstein! ;-). Thanks Marius and SARCA - I'm totally hooked! The Wildchild.

Marlei Marlei makes acquaintance...   Marlei Marlei digs in.

Sarah's comments:

Having never experienced a SARCA trip before, I didn't know what to expect. It was both tougher and more enjoyable than I thought it would be. It was fascinating to see so many snake species and to learn so much.

Sarah Sarah with an adult Giant Bullfrog.  

Themba's comments:

It's vitally important to know your environment and everything living in it. SARCA serves that purpose: to acquaint us with our reptiles. So be a part of it!

  Themba Themba got up close to everything!   Themba Themba installs a pitfall trap.

Species recorded during SARCA 8:



Agama a. aculeata - Common Ground Agama
Agama atra - Southern Rock Agama
Chondrodactylus angulifer - Giant Ground Gecko
Cordylus polyzonus - Karoo Girdled Lizard
Nucras livida - Karoo Sandveld Lizard
Pachydactylus bibronii - Bibron's Thick-toed Gecko
Pachydactylus capensis - Cape Thick-toed Gecko
Pachydactylus mariquensis latirostris - Marico Thick-toed Gecko
Pachydactylus purcelli - Purcell's Thick-toed Gecko
Pedioplanis lineoocellata subsp. - Spotted Sand Lizard
Pedioplanis namaquensis - Namaqua Sand Lizard
Trachylepis capensis - Cape Skink
Trachylepis occidentalis - Western Three-striped Skink
Trachylepis s. sulcata - Western Rock Skink
Trachylepis spilogaster - Kalahari Tree Skink
Trachylepis variegata - Variegated Skink
Varanus albigularis - Rock Monitor *


Aspidelaps l. lubricus - Cape Coral Snake
Bitis arietans - Puff Adder *
Dasypeltis scabra - Rhombic Egg-eater
Elapsoidea sundevallii media - Sundevall's Garter Snake
Lamprophis capensis - Brown House Snake
Naja nivea - Cape Cobra
Prosymna sundevallii - Sundevall's Shovel-snout
Psammophis notostictus - Karoo Sand Snake
Rhinotyphlops lalandei - Delalande's Beaked Blind Snake
Rhinotyphlops schinzi - Schinz's Beaked Blind Snake
Telescopus beetzii - Beetz's Tiger Snake


Geochelone pardalis - Leopard Tortoise
Pelomedusa subrufa - Marsh Terrapin
Psammobates tentorius subsp. - Tent Tortoise



Breviceps adspersus - Bushveld Rain Frog
Bufo vertebralis - Southern Pygmy Toad
Cacosternum boettgeri - Common Caco
Pyxicephalus adspersus - Giant Bullfrog
Tomopterna tandyi - Tandy's Sand Frog
* = species not encountered during the survey, but recorded by means of interviews with farmers.

froglove Cape Coral Snakes.   gecko Marico Thick-toed Gecko


The Toyota bakkies sponsored by the 4x4 Eco Challenge ( are steadily clocking up tens of thousands of SARCA kilometres - almost 30 000 km by the end of trip 8. In order not to run up too many miles on one vehicle, the Eco Challenge bakkies are alternated. What luxury! Thank you Gerhard, thank you Eco Challenge, thank you Good Year, and thank you Toyota!

bakkie The 4X4 Eco Challenge bakkie does its amphibious thing.  

We are grateful to Nico Botha for his kind permission to search for and trap reptiles on his farms. I'm once again indebted to Blackie Swart of Prieska who knows all the best places to stay. This time he directed us to Omdraaisvlei, where our accommodation was in a big old farm house, complete with some rather handsome Bibron's Thick-toed Geckos right inside the bedrooms. The place is a treat, so go and visit Danielle Law-Jackson and her menagerie of furry, feathered and scaly creatures. Thank you Danielle.

Northern Cape Nature Conservation Service is thanked for providing a permit (0861/05 1/10/2/730) to collect reptiles during SARCA surveys.

flowers The rains had brought out some stunning flowers!.   flowers

Photos by Marius Burger

Compiled by Marius Burger & James Harrison
SARCA Project Herpetologist & 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 29 June 2006 ]

    May 30, 2024, 2:53 am