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SARCA Field Survey No. 10 -
trip report

February 2007     

Date: Date: 15 - 24 March 2006
Locality: Northern West province, Dithakong district and adjacent farms.

trap array Trap array 10-1a.   trap array Trap array 10-3c.

traps array Trap array 10-8b.

SARCA Team 10:

Marius Burger: SARCA Project Herpetologist
Stiv Samuel: The Stiv Meister seems somewhat of a dabbler. Apparently an architect by profession, the man is always travelling and writing articles about wherever, or doing film shoots elsewhere. Whatever...
Ross Hawkins: Muscle Man Ross is a salesman for Concept2 rowing machines at Sculpture Fitness. He is currently doing his National Nature Conservation diploma with UNISA. Very large pythons share his bedroom. Ross loves digging pitfall traps - perfect SARCA-volunteer material.

  Team 9
SARCA Team 10: Stiv and Ross and Kokerboom.

Marius's comments:

Survey 10 marked the first 100 days of SARCA fieldwork. During these 100 amazing days I was accompanied by a variety of volunteers - 25 of them to date - a real mixed assortment, ranging from reptile fanatics to folk with reptile phobias. Ross Hawkins falls in the first category - he is truly besotted with reptiles, especially snakes. Stiv Samuel on the other hand - well I'm not sure what label to bestow upon him. He just sort of accidentally ended up on this trip - volunteered during a moment of non-thinking at the suggestion of Marlei Martins (volunteer on SARCA 8) - and the next moment he found himself immersed in a world of creepy creatures being chased by two nutcases. And he loved it - sort of…

SARCA 10 happened in Dithakong, a traditional community area, whereas all of the previous surveys were conducted in commercial farming areas. The logistics of the latter were, in most cases, straightforward. I would phone up a farmer or two in the region: "Hello, I'm Marius Burger, we're wanting to do a reptile survey in your region - it's for a very special project - we need cheap accommodation on your farm and freedom to roam the place. How do you like me so far?". The responses were always positive: "Yes, you are welcome to explore our farms. You can stay in the hunters' lodge. Do have dinner with us, and meet our three lovely daughters…". But Dithakong required a different approach, and I was uncertain if we would be able to pull this one off.

Firstly, we had to get the chief's permission to work in the area. My apprehension turned out to be ill founded. Chief Gasemelwe was most friendly and amenable, and after a short meeting outside his house we had his blessings to conduct our study. "Yes, please catch all the snakes you can find - we don't like them very much." Part of the deal was to employ a local guy to serve as our guide and interpreter. This is in fact a crucial component of such a survey, and without the assistance of Supa we would certainly have met with a variety of problems along our way.

chief Supa, our assistant from Dithakong.  

OK, permission to work in the area was in place, but where would we find accommodation for 10 days? At the Dithakong tribal office we met a chap who kindly introduced us to Oom Hansie Fourie and his family and many dogs. After explaining our crazy intentions, we were welcomed and invited to stay with Oom Hansie and Tannie Anne in their little house. Sjoe, I couldn't believe our luck - such hospitality is rather scarce nowadays!

Highlights of SARCA 10: We recorded 24 reptile species from priority grid cell 2723BB, that is 83% of the expected richness. The total for the whole trip was 43 species. The most special records were Giant Legless Skink (>450km outside of its known distribution range), and Wahlberg's Snake-eyed Skink (>300km outside). The identifications of these two species are only tentative. If they are indeed the species as per my provisional IDs, then these new geographical range extensions are impressive. Alternatively, they may be species new to science, soon to be confirmed one way or another by means of DNA analyses. Either way, they demonstrate that interesting discoveries are awaiting those who search in regions that are poorly explored.

legless skink Giant Legless Skink.   snake-eyed skink Wahlberg's Snake-eyed Skink.

Another highlight was our visit to the Dibotswa High School. We presented a short talk about SARCA to Principal Malele and his brimming classroom of wide-eyed children, some of whom chose to vacate the room once live snakes and a large Rock Monitor were produced. It was lovely to witness the surprisingly quick transition from absolute fear and disgust, to exhilarating moments of first contact and enthusiastic stroking of specimens (by a few brave only), followed by scrumming to have their picture taken with the large leguaan.

education Ross introduces the learners of Dibotswa High to a Rock Monitor.  

Stiv's comments:

The SARCA trip was in March of 2006, and I haven't looked at large expanses of tarmac in quite the same way since! As one of our exercises during our time in the North West, Marius, Ross and I would bundle into the cab of the sturdy Toyota that managed to get us everywhere during our rain-soaked, muddy visit to this semi-desert (?!) region - usually with me on a rolled up T-shirt for comfort, wedged atop the 20-cm wide storage box behind the hand-brake, peering around the rear-view mirror, desperately scanning the road surface for Puff Adders and Cape Cobras that might be lying on the residually warmed surface of the highway…

Funny thing is, I've been doing that ever since! Well, not sitting on top of the hand-brake, but scanning the road. Since searching for reptiles in a grid cell in North West for 10 days in March, I've lived and worked in Cape Town, Bern and Zurich in Switzerland, Krakow and Zakopane in southern Poland, Poprad in Slovakia, Manhattan in New York State, and Louisville, which is the capital of Kentucky - I get around! And whether I was walking through Central Park on my way to work in Manhattan, or skirting the High Tatra Mountains in an SUV in northern Slovakia, I would find myself unconsciously scanning left and right over tarmac surfaces, keeping an eye open for snakes soaking up heat.

So far, I've swerved at high speed on a highway in Switzerland for a piece of shredded tyre, stooped to peer at what I thought might be a gecko and turned out to be dog faeces in New York, and winced while driving over what I mistook to be a snake in Kentucky, only to be told that it was a rubberised expansion joint on the surface of Interstate 64. Thanks Marius.

Stiv Stiv and puffy in funnel trap.  

Unlike Ross who knew scientific names for things, and how to catch Boomslangs in grass, I began my SARCA trip as an absolute novice. Part of my motivation for going was that, like most people, I'm slightly afraid of scaly, spiky, slithery creatures. Not only was I able to confront my snake-handling trepidation head-on, but I also gained fascinating insight into how a scientific survey is conducted, how to scientifically preserve and tag specimens, and how to talk absolute rubbish and share bizarre life stories whilst driving long distances through African bush. I learned that under every rock there is another world, of beauty, of education, of evolution, and that just by focusing on a realm that one would usually disregard, one can discover so much more about a place. I now know about nematodes and skinks, and tiger snakes and funnel traps - otherwise known as sources of bladdy hard work! - and the non-aggressive posturing of said Boomslang. I now know how a trade-store family in rural North West live out their lives under the shade of a Pepper Tree, out back by the braai, and my two-week immersion course in egte Afrikaans - years after I last spoke it in high school - should keep me primed for when I next tackle an expedition into the reality of southern Africa.

Cos I'd love to go again, and get bitten by mozzies, get real dirt under my fingernails, learn about life experiences from a long-haired blond adventurer, and rediscover the pleasure of a well deserved cold beer at the end of a loooong, hard day. It wasn't easy, and getting back to civilisation at the end of it never felt so… civilised! But the rewards outweighed the hardships, the memories outlived the sore muscles, and the experience outranked the mundane, everyday sameness that so many of us endure as our day-to-day lives. I'd go and count lizards again in a heartbeat!

Stiv & Boomslang Stiv and Boomslang.  

Ross's comments:

This trip was a mini dream-come-true for me - 10 days doing nothing but look for reptiles! The digging of the holes was good fun, as it meant there might be some reptilian beauties to be found as a reward for all the hard work. My main driver is snakes, but on this trip I could get to know more about lizards and geckos. There is so much to learn about these animals, and this trip was an opportunity.

The hospitality we were shown by the locals was amazing. Who in their right mind gives up their house to total strangers so that they can bring back a load of reptiles to display and photograph in their living room? I had a great time with Marius and Stiv, with lots of laughs and good fun for a solid 10 days. The highlight had to be catching a large female Boomslang on an active search, and finding a Giant Legless Skink well outside its home range. Thank you SARCA and Marius; I will be seeing you again and again until the end of this project.

Ross & terrapin Ross and Marsh Terrapin.  

Species recorded during SARCA 10:



Acontias cf plumbeus - Giant Legless Skink
Agama a. aculeata - Common Ground Agama
Agama anchietae - Anchieta's Agama **
Agama atra - Southern Rock Agama
Chondrodactylus angulifer - Giant Ground Gecko **
Cordylus polyzonus - Karoo Girdled Lizard
Gerrhosaurus flavigularis - Yellow-throated Plated Lizard
Heliobolus lugubris - Bushveld Lizard
Ichnotropis squamulosa - Common Rough-scaled Lizard
Lygodactylus capensis - Cape Dwarf Gecko
Nucras intertexta - Spotted Sandveld Lizard
Pachydactylus bibronii - Bibron's Thick-toed Gecko
Pachydactylus capensis - Cape Thick-toed Gecko
Pachydactylus mariequensis mariquensis - Marico Thick-toed Gecko **
Pachydactylus mariequensis latirostris - "Marico" Thick-toed Gecko **
Panaspis wahlbergii - Wahlberg's Snake-eyed Skink
Pedioplanis lineoocellata - Spotted Sand Lizard
Pedioplanis namaquensis - Namaqua Sand Lizard
Trachylepis capensis - Cape Skink
Trachylepis punctatissima - Speckled Montane Skink
Trachylepis sulcata sulcata - Western Rock Skink
Trachylepis variegata - Variegated Skink
Varanus albigularis - Rock Monitor
Zygaspis quadrifrons - Kalahari Round-headed Worm Lizard

lizard Heliobolus lugubris Bushveld Lizard.  


Aparallactus capensis - Cape Centipede-eater
Bitis arietans - Puff Adder
Bitis caudalis - Horned Adder **
Dasypeltis scabra - Rhombic Egg-eater
Dispholidus typus - Boomslang
Lamprophis capensis - Brown House Snake
Leptotyphlops sp. ? - thread snake species
Lycophidion capense - Cape Wolf Snake
Naja nivea - Cape Cobra *
Psammophis brevirostris - Short-snouted Sand Snake
Psammophis notostictus - Karoo Sand Snake **
Psammophis trinisalis - Kalahari Sand Snake
Psammophylax tritaeniatus - Striped Skaapsteker
Pseudaspis cana- Mole Snake
Python natalensis - Southern African Python **

adder Bitis caudalis Horned Adder.  


Geochelone pardalis - Leopard Tortoise
Pelomedusa subrufa - Marsh Terrapin
Psammobates oculiferus - Kalahari Tent Tortoise
Psammobates tentorius verroxii - Verrox's Tent Tortoise

tortoise Psammobates tentorius verroxii - Verrox's Tent Tortoise.  



Breviceps adspersus - Bushveld Rain Frog
Tomopterna sp. ? - sand frog species

* = species not encountered during the survey, but recorded by means of interviews with landowners.
** = species found outside of the survey area, i.e., not within the priority area.

frog Breviceps adspersus Bushveld Rain Frog. Note the sticky, white secretion and inflated body - both are defensive mechanisms.  


Gerhard Groenewald of the 4x4 Eco Challenge gave us his Toyota Land Cruiser (old faithful Brutus) to conduct SARCA 10. What a pleasure to drive such a beast. A huge thanks to you Gerhard.

Our base was at Dithakong where the Fouries pampered us silly. Other than on the Dithakong tribal land, we also surveyed the farms Boscobel and Bethlem under the management of Flip Klinck, and Kormutsetla, the farm of Flip's parents. SARCA is grateful to all these kind people.

The Department of Agriculture, Conservation, Environment and Tourism, North West province, is thanked for providing a permit (000016 NW-06) to collect reptiles in the province.

bakkie and cart Different modes of transport getting the job done.  

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 7 February 2007 ]

    April 16, 2024, 10:41 pm