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SARCA Field Survey No. 11 -
trip report

April 2007     

Date: Date: 1 - 12 April 2006
Locality: Northern Cape Province, in the region of Augrabies and Onseepkans, on the farms Daberas and Caramaan.


trap array Trap array 11-1a.   trap array Trap array 11-3b.

trap array Trap array 11-4a.   trap array Trap array 11-6a.

SARCA Team 11:

Marius Burger: SARCA Project Herpetologist
Gerda Kriel: A para-ecologist with BIOTA, a German government-sponsored biodiversity project.
Marianna Lot: Also a BIOTA para-ecologist, but one that is very scared of snakes.
Alex Rebelo: A pupil from Bergvliet High School with a passion for snakes.
Tony Rebelo: Tony is Alex's father, and he's also that famous vegetation expert from SANBI.

  Team 11 Team 11 at Augrabies Falls.

Marius's comments:

Lights, camera, SARCA 11! The team consisted of two Namakwaland se meisies (one with a snake phobia), a father-and-son combo, and the three filmmakers of the 50/50 television programme who followed us around like we were celebrities. They shot a documentary of SARCA during trips 11 and 12, and it was screened in November 2006 (contact 50/50 if you missed the action). The location was on the farm Daberas and surroundings, high up in the Northern Cape on the Namibian border, and the terrain was perfect for reptiles. We recorded the highest species richness of all the SARCA trips thus far, with 39 species within the survey area, and another four en route.


50/50 team The 50/50 team: Debbie Rogers, Leon Hagen and Mandla Mlambo.  

On the first morning, before we had erected any of the pitfall and funnel traps, a beautiful Black Spitting Cobra presented itself in a dry river bed. He had us all in a scramble in our efforts to capture him, and of course the TV crew was there to record the event. Catching a spitting-mad spitting cobra is a bit tricky if you're not wearing goggles or glasses to protect your eyes from the spray of venom. Catching it with your eyes closed is, of course, just blerrie stupid. In this case, however, I had to employ some of that stupidity, and lots of turn-the-head-away whenever I anticipated a spray. Twenty or so sprays later, and after much head jerking and high jumping (on my part), the cobra became more manageable.


Naja woodi The magnificent Black Spitting Cobra.  

Once I had it in hand, it was time to start the love-thy-snake therapy, and I called Marianna over so that she could feel the cobra. I was told (warned) beforehand that Marianna is terrified of snakes, and that she wanted to use the SARCA trip as an opportunity to deal with this fear. I doubted very much that she would touch the cobra we had just caught, especially after its impressive show of rearing high and spreading its hood while spitting venom all over the place. But hey, when the cameras are on you, and you know that the friends and family at home will all be watching the show, then bravery comes to the fore and makes you do things that later gives you the "grille". Marianna surprised us all when she nonchalantly stroked the cobra as if she was merely stroking a cute puppy. "Once I've given myself up, then I've given myself up", she said.

In contrast with Marianna, Alex actually loves snakes. It took me a while to draw his attention to the beauty and diversity of lizards, because he initially just wanted to find snakes, snakes and more snakes. We did find a lot of snakes: 81 specimens in total, of 13 species (excluding three species found en route to site), but in reality it is the lizard fauna of this region that promises the most interesting herpetological discoveries. For example, we found some specimens of Mountain Thick-toed Geckos, a species that you won't find in the current reptile field guides because its taxonomic status was confirmed only in 2006. We also found the Namaqua Day Gecko some considerable distance outside of its known geographical distribution range. The lizard richness that we recorded was double that of the snakes (26 versus 13 species). A "special" of the region is Broadley's Flat Lizard. These brightly coloured lizards occur in dense populations at the Augrabies Falls. If you have even half an interest in reptiles, then a visit to view these lizards should be high on your herping itinerary.


flat lizard Broadley's Flat Lizard.  

Some time after the SARCA 11 field survey, Gerda and Marianna presented a talk/poster at the Arid Zone Ecology Forum held in Kammieskroon. The talk was titled "Suidelike Afrika Reptielbewaring Ontleding (SARCA): 'n opwindende manier om meer te leer oor Suid-Afrikaanse reptiele". I'm sorry that I missed that conference, because I later learned that Gerda won first prize in the poster presentation section, and Marianna won a book prize for merit. Mooi so meisies!

Marianna's comments:

Ten eerste was dit 'n uitdaging vir my om hierdie groep te ondersteun. Die hantering van vangnette opsit was baie wonderlik.

Die ondervinding wat ek opgedoen het: Jy moet vasberade wees en ook die gevoel h om met die retiele te wil werk. Die ontmoeting van groot slange was asemrowend, en die hantering daarvan! Vir die eerste keer in my lewe het ek hulle met my eie hande gevat en die gevoel van vrees en spanning oorkom.

Dit was vir my baie goed om deel te wees want nou kan ek myself verdedig deur die kennis van wat is gevaarlik en wat is nie gevaarlik nie te leer. Die lering van die verskillende soorte reptiele, en die verskil tussen my plek en die ander plekke sin. Dit was die mees ervare navorsing wat ek ooit gedoen het, en ook die beste. Die aanbieder, Marius Burger, weet net hoe om bang mense te hanteer wanneer dit by die "ontmoeting" kom.

Sterkte en voorspoed vir SARCA!

Gerda's comments:

Ek het baie ondervinding opgedoen op die field trip. Met my eie o het ek verskillende reptiel spesies gesien - ek het dit nog nooit beleef nie. Vir die eerste keer in my lewe het ek 'n Geelkappel (Cape Cobra) en 'n Pofadder in my hand vasgehou. Ek was baie trots om my vrees te oorkom.

Om so baie reptiele in die aand te sien was baie verbaasend, want die reptiele is meer aktief in die nag as in die dag. Vir my was dit baie hartseer om te sien hoe baie reptiele dood op die paie l.

Ek het nooit geweet dat reptiele deel is van ons biodiversiteit nie. Die trip was 'n groot ondervinding vir my en dit was ook baie leersaam. Ek het die nag trips baie geniet want dan kan jy meer slange sien. Vir Marius wil ek net dankie s dat hy my die geleentheid gegee het om te leer van die reptiele van Suid-Afrika. So, as jy wil jou vrees oorkom, nooi ek jou uit om op 'n SARCA trip te gaan - jy sal nie spyt wees nie!


Gerda Gerda and puffy - a safely dead one!  

Alex's comments:

This trip was an excellent opportunity for me to learn more about reptiles and how to catch them. I encourage reptile enthusiasts to go on these trips - it really shows what you're made of. One of the highlights was the Black Spitting Cobra: I didn't even put it on my 'must-see-list' because I knew I would probably be disappointed. It was actually our first snake of the trip!

The traps were a pain and took us a day to finish them. Daberas was lekka. We had someone to do our dishes (otherwise I would have probably had to do them), and though there were good beds, the guys decided to sleep outside. We caught lots of reptiles, some of which I'd only seen as pictures in books.

A few 'interesting' moments really made it an adventure: such as being stung by a scorpion (a bit on the unpleasant side), and the huge storm which rained so much that it broke all the fences in the riverbeds. It was more like day than night with lightning lighting up the place almost continuously. Then there was also the mystery of Marius's lost wallet. Piet the farmer got stuck in quicksand after the rains, and while Marius turned the Eco Challenge bakkie around to be able to tow Piet's bakkie out, we heard this 'splush'. And so I was able to avoid school for one more day.


flood damage Aftermath of the storm: fences and gates not where they were before.  

I'd like to thank all those involved in planning the trip. I had a lovely time and hope to go on a few more.


Alex Alex examines puffy dentition.  

Tony's comments:

Phoebe and Julia Barnard, Alex Rebelo and I, in two cars, sped from Bergvliet to Namaqualand for SARCA Survey 11. Picked up Gerda Kriel in Van Rhynsdorp, and Marianna Lot in Garies. The fun began just afterwards on the top of Grootberg Pass, when just after passing an Angulate Tortoise crossing, Phoebe's car decided to drop a few gears - slowly at first (just a whine), but after a brief harassment by some police just north of Kamieskroon, the fifth gear disappeared. Springbok on Sunday is no fun: exit Phoebe and Julia to await a mechanic on Monday! Alas, they never made Daberas.

I had the misfortune of a road atlas, which meant we turned off 200m before the correct road to Daberas and tried to get in the wrong way - from the Gariep River. Acres of plastic-covered vineyards soon had us returning to the correct route, which was confirmed by a brief note fluttering in the dirt road: "Gone filming, beer in fridge - Marius". We knew we were at the right place.


hills Magnificent scenery near the Gariep River.  

Evening brought Marius, the 50:50 film crew and Piet le Grange (of Daberas Adventures). An evening of takes, retakes and cuts of Marius explaining, outlining, instructing and enlightening us to the intricacies of reptile atlasing. Followed by the first of many night rides: travelling the tar roads between Keimoes and Pofadder looking for flat, not-so-flat and living reptiles. It was a warm and balmy night and we found over 10 species on the road and many specimens. At 23h00, the 50:50 crew packed it in. It was nearly 02h00 when we passed the Aardvolf, Bat-eared Fox and Cape Hare - and they were there at the same time on each of the subsequent five night rides.

The men slept outside, while the women made full use of Daberas's luxurious beds. Still, it was well after 8am when Piet arrived and Marius carefully explained that reptiles never ever ever get up before 10am, and that consequently herpetologists only get up at 09h45. Still the film crew were ready, and wanted to get going, so we departed to lay out our 8 traplines. Down through the wadi, photoshooting as we drove over the almost dry waterfall, redo, do again slowly, do again for the closeups of the car, and again for the closeups of each one of us, and again for the scenic view. Repeat process but filming from behind. A few more shots of the bakkie riding down the dry river bed. Just starting to get a bit bedonnerd and wondering when we were ever going to start laying our traplines, when Marius braked hard, lept out of the 4X4 like a man possessed, hair and arms flailing, shouting something that sounded like "bring the sticks", and confronted a Black Spitting Cobra at least as long as him.

And then it was the snake's turn. "Do that again. Get him to spit at your face one more time sorry didn't get that let's try again. OK. Again - with a closeup of your face. Excellent - now for a closeup of the snake's face. Great. Lets do it again, but I'll film it from underneath. Just explain that again No not like that remember you were looking at the snake as it was trying to climb up the snake pole to bite your hand: start again from "die gif kan tot 2m gespuit word " Is that poison on your face? - great hold it like that and we'll get a closeup - don't move!" For over an hour Marius and the snake danced, spat, ducked, weaved and performed to commentary from Marius. I don't know who was more tired when at last the snake was enticed into a pillowcase and placed in a bucket. "That was excellent. OK, lets do the closeups. Remember the snake was on that stick thing about to bite Marius, what were you doing? Lovely, lets just zoom in onto your left nostril "


filming The most photographed cobra that ever lived.  

At last, we got to lay our first trapline. Piet dug the holes (boer maak n plan - he had his equipment to cope with Namaqualand clay and rock), and we quickly laid out the plastic barriers in a Y-shape, aligned the pitfall buckets in the centre and ends, and put down the six funnel traps. And then we did it again for the scenic shots. And again for the closeups. And again for facial expressions (well, we were on TV you know, so we tried not to show our less-humorous side). After the second trap array (of 8, but I've already said that) with repeats for closeups, scenics, sweat on the brow, blood on the fingers, the fifteenth retake of putting the wet cloths in the bottom of the bucket, we had lunch. From then on there were no more retakes and redoings; 50-50 had to catch it on the run. We managed the last trap array as the sun disappeared, with film crews capturing different angles of the trap array with the blood-red sunset as we tried to finish before it was too dark. We ended up with 2 wadi trap arrays, 2 on clay-sand under Camelthorn, 1 rocky vlakte, 1 rocky vlakte under Kokerboom with Sociable Weaver nest, 1 Kalahari sand under Camelthorn with Sociable Weaver nest, and 1 clay vlakte. That evening consisted of filming us preparing specimens. I am proud to say that with Marianna's nursing experience (although she never injected formalin into her patients before), and Gerda's "lets get it done" attitude, we did get through the entire backlog by the time we were done.

The next morning at 09h45 we got up (actually we all were up long before then, but let Marius get his beauty sleep while we watch the Koringkrieke walk all over him, betting that one would walk into his open mouth, and so forth), and drove off to inspect the traps, a pattern to be repeated for the following 8 days. Yes, and we had to rediscover the lizard, with closeup of face, then the lizard, then a scenic shot, etc., but by then we were seasoned filmstars, drukking the tear, or frowning in puzzlement over an odd specimen, or showing extreme surprise for the 5th retake (well, OK, perhaps we weren't that good).

The long, straight roads with their booty of flat and living specimens were, surprisingly, another highlight. We saw hundreds of times more reptiles on the roads than we caught in the traps or from our wanderings through the veld looking under stones and in bushes. Unfortunately 80% of these were history - either damaged goods or pancakes. We peeled them off and tried to identify them: if they were not too decayed or biltong we kept them for posterity. The few live ones entertained us with their attempts to escape, defend themselves and their natural behaviour - all livened up with the real chance of ending up pancaked ourselves as pantechnicons thundered past and cars chased the speed limit, while Marius and Alex photographed, caught and identified the little critters. Not all ended up as specimens: a maximum of 8 specimens of each species was stipulated in the permit, but we never reached this total, and many of the more common live specimens were safely ushered off the road. Often we got all we wanted from already dead specimens. Specimens are one thing, but watching a Rough-scaled Thick-toed Gecko wander across the road with its tail up, pretending to be a scorpion, or a male Giant Ground Gecko ignore your attempts at catching it to chase away another male, or the Common Barking Gecko bark, is to be alive! It should be compulsory that all South Africans spend a hot steamy night out on our national roads both scraping up and rescuing reptiles, birds (the Eagle Owl with a broken wing on the N9 near the Namibian border sadly died before we got back to base) and mammals (we did not collect these - flat mammals are no good as skulls are essential, but we saw several two-dimensional rats and shrews).


  Team on the road
SARCA Team 11: Marianna, Gerda, Tony and Alex, with Puff Adder found on the road at night.
barking gecko Common Barking Gecko.

Another treat was watching Marius (camera rolling, boom 10cm above his head, director making sure we "spectators" don't cast a shadow on the subject) extract a Western Rock Skink from a crevice: "Grab it by the leg, careful not to grab the tail, ah - got it!" as a huge, flat scorpion walks out onto his hand. "Oh, look, a large Hadogenes - the Namaqua Crayfish - isn't it beautiful, don't worry, it doesn't normally sting "

The trip ended with a bang. Our penultimate day threatened some thunderstorms, but despite spectacular skies, nothing much came of it. Until about midnight. Between 00h30 and 02h00 there were not more than 3 seconds when they sky was not lit up by multiple and spectacular lightning bolts and flashes. The skies roared, the wind howled, the heavens opened and the rain cascaded. And shortly after 02h30 there was another sound: a rustling hum: the Daberas River coming down in flood. There was still enough lightning to walk down to the river and watch the waters arrive and rise. In the morning the fences were gone: the sign saying "Please close the gate" was lying on its side and the gate was standing proudly erect into the sky - the only clue as to where the road once was.

Needless to say, our trap arrays were all flooded. We dug out the drift fences, tried to find the buckets and funnel traps and were thankful that we found no animals in them. By midmorning, we had finished 5 trap arrays and only those below the running waterfall required action before we departed for Cape Town. At that stage, Piet arrived bedraggled and muddy: his 4X4 was stuck - could we help him out? No problem! It took about 2 hours to get Piet's 4X4 out, but not before the SARCA 4X4 sank into the quicksand, requiring another hour to dig, jack-up, pack with rocks, push, tug and pull out. The previously firm riverbed was liquid slush in places and getting to the last three trap arrays was an adrenaline adventure. Finding them was more of a challenge, and digging up the last wadi trap array required excavating to more than 1m, and not everything could be found.


flood damage Aftermath of the storm: Tony and Alex use x-ray vision to find traps below the silt.  

16h00 - far too late to get home today. Piet kindly offered us an extra night's accommodation. "Yay" said Alex, "that means I miss a day of school." One minor problem - getting back out! The ride back up the river and waterfall were nerve-wracking to put it mildly. The heaviest monthly rainfall on record for the surrounding farms had fallen during the night.

But the adventure was not done. The next morning the roads were still wet and the 8 km access road to Daberas was either washed away or covered with mud. We pushed our sedan for over 3 km just to get out (yes, towing it would have been easier, but one needs rope), having to stop occasionally to cool the engine. The drive home (via the Hantam and Tanqwa Karoo) was uneventful, although how many herps we pancaked en route I'll never know. But I do now realize that to drive a car means more than contributing to global warming: our roads are literally paved with snakeskin! And only the crows and Marius seem to know or care.

PS Apologies to the 50:50 crew who were fantastic: interested, keen and great company. Thanks guys! What? Again? Look more serious? OK, but try and get my profile better this time....


Tony Tony on the job. Older folk sometimes find it hard to keep up.  

Species recorded during SARCA 11:

REPTILES

Lizards

Acontias l. lineatus - Striped Legless Skink
Agama a. aculeata - Common Ground Agama
Agama anchietae - Anchieta's Agama
Agama atra - Southern Rock Agama
Chondrodactylus angulifer - Giant Ground Gecko
Cordylosaurus subtessellatus - Dwarf Plated Lizard
Cordylus polyzonus - Karoo Girdled Lizard
Lygodactylus bradfieldi - Bradfield's Dwarf Gecko
Meroles suborbitalis - Spotted desert Lizard
Nucras elegans - Elegant Sandveld Lizard
Pachydactylus bibronii - Bibron's Thick-toed Gecko
Pachydactylus mariequensis latirostris - Marico Thick-toed Gecko
Pachydactylus montanus - Mountain Thick-toed Gecko
Pachydactylus punctatus - Speckled Thick-toed Gecko
Pachydactylus rugosus - Common Rough Thick-toed Gecko
Pachydactylus mariequensis latirostris - Marico Thick-toed Gecko
Pedioplanis inornata - Plain Sand Lizard
Pedioplanis lineoocellata - Spotted Sand Lizard
Phelsuma ocellata - Namaqua Day Gecko
Platysaurus broadleyi - Broadley's Flat Lizard
Ptenopus garulus maculatus - Common Barking Gecko
Trachylepis occidentalis - Western Three-striped Skink
Trachylepis sparsa - Karasburg Tree Skink
Trachylepis spilogaster - Kalahari Tree Skink
Trachylepis sulcata sulcata - Western Rock Skink
Trachylepis variegata - Variegated Skink
Varanus albigularis - Rock Monitor *

gecko Pachydactylus rugosus Common Rough Thick-toed Gecko.  

Snakes

Aspidelaps l. lubricus - Cape Coral Snake
Bitis arietans - Puff Adder
Bitis caudalis - Horned Adder
Dasypeltis scabra - Rhombic Egg-eater
Dipsina mulimaculata - Dwarf Beaked Snake
Lamprophis capensis - Brown House Snake
Lycophidion capense - Cape Wolf Snake
Naja nivea - Cape Cobra
Naja woodi - Black Spitting Cobra
Psammophis brevirostris - Short-snouted Sand Snake *
Psammophis notostictus - Karoo Sand Snake
Psammophis trinisalis - Kalahari Sand Snake
Pseudaspis cana - Mole Snake *
Telescopus beetzii - Beetz's Tiger Snake
Telescopus s. semiannulatus - Eastern Tiger Snake *
Rhinotyphlops schinzi - Schinz's Beaked Blind Snake

blind snake Rhinotyphlops schinzi Schinz's Beaked Blind Snake.  

AMPHIBIANS

Frogs

Amietophrynus rangeri - Raucous Toad
Phrynomantis annectens - Marbled Rubber Frog

* = species found outside of the survey area, i.e., not within the priority area.

Acknowledgements

The 4x4 Eco Challenge Toyota bakkie once again carried us through harsh terrain. I generally try to avoid 4x4 situations, but the main purpose of the SARCA surveys is to explore those off-the-beaten-track localities of which the herpetofaunas are completely unknown. And you can't really do it without 4x4 mode. Thank you for making it possible! (see www.4x4ecochallenge.co.za).

Piet le Grange of Daberas Adventures provided very lekker accommodation and lots of stories during SARCA 11. I love this place, and will certainly return one day - maybe for my honeymoon. Thanks Piet! (www.upington.com/DaberasAdventures). Ronel (Daberas) and Christiaan (Caramaan) are thanked for allowing us to roam freely on their farms in our searches for scaly creatures.

The 50/50 team, Debbie Rogers, Leon Hagen and Mandla Mlambo, promoted SARCA by means of a two-part documentary that was shown on national television in November 2006. Thanks to them and to 50/50, and for their endless patience in having to deal with third-rate actors! We learned a lot about the ways of producers: "Perfect! That was good! Now do it again".

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


bakkie and flood The Toyota bakkie hesitates at the brink of a river in flood.  


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 June 2007 ]

    September 20, 2017, 11:41 pm