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SARCA Field Survey No. 9 - trip report
Date: Date: 26 February - 7 March 2006
SARCA Team 9:
My two volunteers on this trip also happened to be two good friends: I've known Phantom Ferdie for about 10 years, and the lovely Tessa jumped into my life just a few years ago - I have yet to recoverů
After a quick detour via Klipbokkop, base of the 4x4 Eco Challenge venture, our excessively stacked bakkie set off to the desolate Tankwa Karoo. I would love to explore this region some day, but for now the red sands and rocky hills of Kuruman were a higher priority. What scaly creatures might lurk there? Nobody knows for sure, but in 10 days time, the three of us will.
We negotiated a special deal for accommodation at Red Sands Country Lodge, and then spent a few hours exploring 2723CB (ranked 17th most important grid cell) to locate suitable sites for setting up the trap arrays. The aim was to select sites in different habitat types, e.g., open sandy plains, next to a wetland, in a bush clump, or skirting a rocky outcrop. Trap construction is usually the toughest part of any SARCA trip, but once these are in place, the fun can commence. While working on trap array 9-1, Ferdie called me over to show a thin pinkish reptile that he had uncovered. A Kalahari Round-headed Worm Lizard! Worm lizards, or amphisbaenians, were conventionally classified in a separate suborder from lizards. However, based on recent genetic analyses, it was shown that they are in fact lizards, albeit a rather bizarre form thereof. We were off to a good startů
Inclusive of reptiles noted on the way to and from the survey area, and records obtained by means of interviews with farmers, we recorded 32 reptile species during SARCA 9 (see checklist below). The brightest highlight was certainly the Beaked Stiletto Snake that crawled into funnel trap 9-4F6. Firstly, I've never seen this species before, and secondly we found it a considerable way out of its known distribution range. We also found two stiletto snakes squashed on the road at night. I still have to take a better look at these specimens under a microscope, but I suspect that they may in fact be a different species: Bibron's Stiletto Snake. If this is indeed the case, then these records of near sympatry (occurring together in the same area) between two species of stiletto snake, are of special herpetological interest.
I was also a bit surprised to find Eastern Tiger Snakes in the Kuruman district. We found several Beetz's Tiger Snakes on some of the previous SARCA trips, at localities west of Kuruman, and now suddenly a different species. I wonder if their distributions overlap and, if so, where. When will we know all the answers? If I did nothing else every day but survey all the grid cells that cover southern Africa, it would take me 55 years to get about 70% of the answers. I certainly wouldn't mind rolling rocks in search of reptiles on my 95th birthday, but I suspect that I'll be under a rock myself by that time. So it makes best sense if I don't try to do it all by myself. And thus we're calling on all you good SARCAlites to photograph reptiles all over southern Africa, and to submit the digital pics to the SARCA Virtual Museum. Visit the website - www.reprtiles.sanbi.org - for details on how to participate, and check out our photo and trap competitions.
Suddenly Marius slammed on brakes, screeched to a halt and leapt out of the car. Shortly he returned, triumphant, with a small tiger snake curled around his hand. We were about 10 km south of Kathu and, at this moment, I realized that this was not the all-expenses-paid trip to Sun City that I thought I was on. I couldn't ask for a refund, and it seemed there was no turning back. I was stuck somewhere in the Northern Cape with two herp-mad men and no Valiums. What is a blonde girl to do if there is no chemical escape? I decided to consult my personality disorders and launch myself headlong into the bizarre world of SARCA. It's not a pretty world to most. Rather more a post-apocalyptic reality filled with hard work, dust and grime-covered bodies, erratic working hours and strange creatures.
Admittedly, I was inspired by the promise of latex gloves and formalin, and the prospect of a cold beer at the end of each day. Had I known there was a bottle of ether tucked away in the equipment, my initial reaction would surely have been more enthusiastic. I am still convinced that Ferdie had found this stash and had been dipping into it from the very beginning, because his sense of humour can only be attributed to substance abuse. Marius, on the other hand, has spent too much of his childhood playing under powerlines.
The combination of the three of us in the Kuruman area left a lasting impression on the local people. We spared no one. From the man behind the meat counter at the local Spar, to the farm workers, all were shamelessly exposed to the SARCAlitic way of thinking: Snakes rule! I even managed to inspire the cleaning woman of our chalet to bring us a big furry caterpillar, a creature which she said "makes me want to crawl out of my skin with disgust".
Then again, our habit of bouncing along the 4x4 tracks singing at the tops of our lungs to whatever CD was spinning in the player, could also have added to our "mystique". Whatever the locals really did think of us, they were exceptionally friendly and hospitable. We were fed copious amounts of meat and booze by Sandtonesque farmers' wives as we exposed their children to all manner of creatures: snakes, lizards, scorpions, and Marius.
So what are my lasting impressions? I know all the words to Rammstein's last album, I have gunpowder residue on my jacket, something tasted like chicken, there exists a tortoise which can strip a carcass in seconds, and a strange tingling sensation on the tip of my left thumb still lingers. I don't remember much else. My therapist says it's due to a type of retrograde amnesia which my mind has developed to shield me from the traumatic experiences of my past. I suppose that would explain why Marius walked right past me the other day without recognizing me. Somehow there is comfort in the notion that I'm possibly not the only one thus afflicted.
SARCA 9 was a GREAT experience! I have known Marius since 1996 when he was still with Eastern Cape Nature Conservation in Grahamstown, and knew that he was an energetic and fun-loving rascal. After we picked Tessa Oliver up from her home, Marius looked back in the Toyota twin cab and quoted from the scripture of Ozzy Osborne: "Let the Madness begin!" And so it was for the rest of the trip.
I would just like to thank Marius for letting me discover for myself that "Balbyter Ants" do sting! At his insistence, I picked up that black ant with the grey abdomen, with my bare hand! Well, once bitten/stung, twice shy, as the saying goes.
On the serious side, Marius is totally committed to herpetology in general and the SARCA project in particular. After installing the trap arrays, one is a fully certified Hole Excavation Technician and your hands and forearms know that they have done manual labour. While digging out grass tufts to cover the funnel traps with, I was lucky enough to excavate an amphisbaenian - the first record of this reptilian group for SARCA.
The area around Kuruman was green, with standing water on the dirt roads still evident when we arrived. Some farms in the area have had in excess of 300 mm of rain since the beginning of January, so the Kalahari was uncharacteristically lush. Insect life was abundant and birds were actively feeding on this rich food source. I was able to add 22 new bird species to my life list. On our night drives we saw a variety of mammals (Bat-eared Fox, Lesser Spotted Genet, African Wild Cat and gerbils) and nocturnal birds (Cape Eagle Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet and Rufous-cheeked Nightjar). At night at Red Sands, where we were based, we saw Blesbok, Impala, Eland and Grey Rhebuck, all within the camp confines.
We found the locals to be friendly and interested in what we were doing. We were invited for dinner at the Cranberry Lodge in Kathu and stayed for an impromptu braai with our host, Lance Chapman, on whose farm (22 km south of Kuruman) most of our traps were deployed. Of course, on both occasions we were entertained by fanciful stories of Black Mambas, large pythons and biblical scripture as to how snakes should be dealt with. I hope we were able to dispel some of the myths associated with reptiles, and we definitely made new friends. For my part, I can whole-heartedly recommend a SARCA trip!
Species recorded during SARCA 9:
LizardsAgama a. aculeata - Common Ground Agama
Agama atra - Southern Rock Agama
Chameleo dilepis - African Flap-necked Chameleon
Cordylus polyzonus - Karoo Girdled Lizard
Heliobolus lugubris - Bushveld Lizard
Ichnotropis squamulosa - Common Rough-scaled Lizard
Nucras intertexta - Spotted Sandveld Lizard
Pachydactylus capensis - Cape Thick-toed Gecko
Pedioplanis lineoocellata - Spotted Sand Lizard
Trachylepis spilogaster - Kalahari Tree Skink
Trachylepis s. sulcata - Western Rock Skink
Trachylepis variegata - Variegated Skink
Varanus albigularis - Rock Monitor
Zygaspis quadrifrons - Kalahari Round-headed Worm Lizard
SnakesAtractaspis duerdeni - Beaked Stiletto Snake
Bitis arietans - Puff Adder
Dasypeltis scabra - Rhombic Egg-eater
Lamprophis capensis - Brown House Snake
Naja nivea - Cape Cobra *1
Leptotyphlops sp. ? - thread snake species
Lycophidion capense - Cape Wolf Snake
Psammophis brevirostris - Short-snouted Sand Snake
Psammophis notostictus - Karoo Sand Snake *2
Psammophis trinisalis - Kalahari Sand Snake
Pseudaspis cana- Mole Snake *1
Python natalensis - Southern African Python *1
Rhinotyphlops lalandei - Delalande's Beaked Blind Snake
Telescopus s. semiannulatus - Eastern Tiger Snake
CheloniansChersina angulata - Angulate Tortoise *2
Geochelone pardalis - Leopard Tortoise *1 *2
Pelomedusa subrufa - Marsh Terrapin
Psammobates oculiferus - Kalahari Tent Tortoise *2
FrogsBreviceps adspersus - Bushveld Rain Frog
Tomopterna sp. ? - sand frog species
*1 = species not encountered during the survey, but recorded by means of interviews with farmers.
*2 = species that were found along the way to the surveying site, i.e., not within the priority area.
Transport was once again sponsored by 4x4 Eco Challenge (www.4x4ecochallenge.co.za). The Toyota bakkie gave faithful service in some tough terrain.
We thank Johan and Magda Fourie of Cranberry Cottage, Kathu, for providing accommodation on the first night of SARCA 9, and for an unforgettable feast. Jakob Kaufmann of Red Sands Country Lodge (www.redsands.co.za) gave the team a special discount for one of his lovely cottages and gave free reign to set traps on his property. Lance and Riana Chapman of the farm Mansfield were equally hospitable, as were their neighbours, Kobus and Elise Kampfer. Mike Haywood and his wife provided additional refreshments and reptilian tales.
On our way back to Cape Town, we spent a night of chop-en-dop at Vaalkop, the farm that was base for SARCA 4. Oom Kallie, a.k.a. Joachim van der Walt, again provided entertainment, this time with his blazing guns.
Northern Cape Nature Conservation Service is thanked for providing a permit (0861/05 1/10/2/730) to collect reptiles during SARCA surveys.
Photos by Marius Burger
Compiled by Marius Burger & James Harrison
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 ]
|March 1, 2021, 8:24 am|