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SARCA Field Survey No. 12 -
trip report

July 2007     

Date: Date: 15-25 April 2006
Locality: Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces, in the Steelpoort district, on the farms Bonamanzi, Kalkfontein, Kennedy's Vale, and the Frischgewaagd (Bobididi) Resettlement.

trap array Trap array 12-1b.   trap array Trap array 12-2a.

trap array Trap array 12-3a.   trap array Trap array 12-3b.

SARCA Team 12:

Marius Burger: SARCA Project Herpetologist
Graham Alexander: Graham, aka Proffie, is a professor of zoology at the University of the Witwatersrand, and one of the founders of the SARCA project. The SARCA Virtual Museum was Graham's idea.
Marcel Witberg: Marcel is secretary of the Cape Reptile Club (CRC), an amateur herpetologist, reptile keeper and breeder, and a Telkom employee.
Pierre Joubert: Pierre-sonder-grense (PSG) is a teacher at Vredenburg High School. He is vice chair of the CRC, an amateur herpetologist, reptile keeper and breeder.

  Team 12 Team 12: Graham, Marcel, Marius and Pierre.

Marius's comments:

SARCA 12 started with a long drive from Cape Town to Mpumalanga, with CRC members Marcel and Pierre-sonder-grense rambling on about reptiles, religions and other unmentionables. We did a sleepover at Ian Scammel's place in Nieu Bethesda. Ian is a keen supporter of the SARCA Virtual Museum, and has submitted some very interesting records, e.g. Fisk's House Snake Lamprophis fiskii near Aberdeen (see Virtual Museum record 1038). I was therefore looking forward meeting a fellow reptile enthusiast, but also because Ian had found a Plain Mountain Adder Bitis inornata in the Compassberg region (see Virtual Museum record 1164). The Plain Mountain Adder was described in 1838. A second specimen was collected 137 years later, and a few more in the 1980s. To date it is still only known from fewer than 10 specimens, so this is truly a novelty for reptile seekers.

adder Bitis inornata Plain Mountin Adder.  

From Nieu Bethesda we set off to Johannesburg to add Graham (Proffie) to the team, and then we headed for Steelpoort. As with SARCA 11, the 50/50 television team spent a few days with us to shoot the second part of a documentary that was screened in November 2006. Now we were in a very different habitat to that of the Daberas/Augrabies region, with a very different reptile fauna to match, and of course a fresh intake of acting talent. As talkative as PSG can be on a normal day, he becomes equally silent when the cameras are poised and rolling…

Team 12 plus 50/50 Team Team 12, plus the 50/50 team.  

Mfezi! What's an Mfezi? You can ask Graham - he knows all too well. The Mfezi also goes by the name of Mozambique Spitting Cobra, or Naja mossambica. And what do spitting cobras do? Yes, they squirt venom from their fangs over some distance, and sometimes they target the eyes of an unfortunate person who is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Graham became such a misplaced person on the first trap-checking day. An Mfezi was captured by one of our funnel traps. I asked Marcel to hold the funnel up high so that I could photograph the snake in the funnel, while dear Proffie was fiddling around behind me. The cobra launched a spray of venom, which missed me, but somehow managed to hit home under Graham's glasses.

Mfezi Mfezi.  

Although we tried rinsing his eyes with water, the effect of the venom was still rather alarming, certainly worse than we expected it to be. And thus our beloved Proffie went down on the second day of SARCA, and had to face the 50/50 film crew the next day with an eye that was horribly bloodshot and pussy, and very, very sore. But the man bounced back amicably, and completed the rest of his SARCA sentence in good spirits. He went forth and taught me a bunch of stuff that I didn't know I should've known.

pain Proffie in pain.   eye "Mfezi-eye syndrome".

Towards the end of the trip we were joined by Jerry Theron and Gerhard Diedericks. Jerry is the herpetologist for Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, and a few years ago he did lots of field surveys for the Southern African Frog Atlas Project (SAFAP). Gerhard is an environmental consultant, and at last count he had submitted 160 records to the SARCA Virtual Museum. On this particular day, the team split up with Marcel and PSG tackling one of our trap sites, while we four went exploring a rocky outcrop in Sekukhune Land (Limpopo). The main goal was to obtain specimens of both subspecies of Platysayrus orientalis so that we could make genetic and morphological comparisons of the Sekukhune Flat Lizard and FitzSimons' Flat Lizard. Alas, we did not manage to find the latter subspecies, but I nevertheless did enjoy Jerry's colourful stories of reptiles en nog so meer…

Jerry The legendary Jerry Theron - a force to be reckoned with.  

The reptile tally at the end of the survey was 39 species, comprising 15 snakes, 21 lizards, two chelonians (and a third on route), and one crocodilian (see checklist below).

platysaurs Platysayrus o. orientalis Sekukhune Flat Lizard - male and female.  

Graham's comments:

Marius, Marius, Marius, what can I say? Well, certainly, people who have not yet been on a SARCA survey trip don't realize just how many skills you bring to the party. And Marius makes it a party - a very hardworking party. Behind the scenes he has a keen sense of how to get things done. I have not seen anyone interact with farmers quite like Marius did during our expedition. The deals were dealt and the (large) discounts set before we'd had time to unpack the vehicle. And in every case, we were all firm friends with the locals by the time we left. Then there is the way that Marius got us volunteers to work like slaves to his exacting standards in setting up the traps. He has eyes like a hawk, and a foot that hits the brake with force. (Marius, how many times did you stop for that splodge of paint on the road?) Above all, Marius makes the SARCA trips fun and hugely educational, and that's what science is all about. But Marius, more regular baths please!

There can be no doubt that, from Marius' perspective, the highlight of our trip was the dreaded "spitting incident". Yes, I took one in the eye for the team, but I must defend my honour: I wasn't handling the snake at the time. In fact, I wasn't even looking at it. So I could argue that it was actually all Marius' fault - he was photographing (read irritating) the snake at the time. We'll leave it there - being spat in the eye by an Mfezi is unpleasant.

revenge Proffie gets his revenge on Mfezi! (Only joking folks - not revenge but just standard sampling.)  

SARCA surveys and the entire SARCA initiative are hugely important to conservation and to the natural heritage of South Africa in general. Traditionally, reptiles have been massively undervalued by the South African public and conservation bodies alike. Things are starting to change, but South African herpetologists and SARCA are still very much at the bleeding edge, and we are generally not pampered with wealth. For example, the inadequacy of funding for herpetological research has had a profound, negative impact on SARCA and has detracted from the good work that Marius and others have performed. In their own way, SARCA surveys are spreading the word and raising our profile - the presence of a 50/50 film crew on our trip is evidence of this. But we have a long, hard road ahead. The restricted ranges and limited mobility of many reptiles mean that they are likely to be very significantly impacted by climate change and habitat transformation. There is much work to be done.

I learnt a huge amount on this survey - from fine-tuning field techniques to photography. But at the end of the day, the thing that I valued most about the survey was the opportunity to get out there and do hands-on herpetology again. I don't do it enough. Oh, and we found a road-kill porcupine. Now I know how 'pick-up-sticks' was invented.

Marcel's comments:

An atypical trip. What more can I say, with animals like Marius, PSG and Proffie, the trip was never going to be dull. Everything was amazing, a total learning curve and a real eye-opener. Before the trip, my interests were purely keeping and breeding captive snakes, but this has extended to the rest of the herp group, including lizards, tortoises, and also to herps in their natural environment. The lab work was one of the many highlights of the trip. There was absolutely so much to learn, yet so little time. The ten days came and went in a blink of an eye. Thanks to SARCA and all involved. It was great.

Marcel Marcel and Mfezi.  

Pierre's comments:

Dit was voorwaar (in vele opsigte) 'n verrykende ervaring. Nie alleen het ek vir Marius Burger en Prof. Graham Alexander beter leer ken nie, ek het welliswaar in die tydperk wat herpetologie (en baie ander verwante sake betref) oneindig baie by hul geleer. Om so in die veld met sulke herpetoloë te wees (kenners in hul onderskeie velde) het beslis my herpetologiese horison verskuif. Dit was wonderlik om reptiele (en nie net slange nie) so in hul natuurlike habitat waar te neem en te versamel. Dit was baie lekker om betrokke te wees by die insameling van wetenskaplike data - data wat vir die voorbestaan van die reptiele in die toekoms van onskatbare ware gaan wees.

Dit was ook 'n skitterende idee om van vrywilligers gebruik te maak. SARCA het beslis hier 'n wenresep beet. Nie alleen word so "goedkoop" arbeid bekom nie, daar word mense na hul gemeenskappe teruggestuur met die boodskap: Reptiele is 'n belangrike en onlosmaaklike deel van die ekosisteem. En die verspreiding van die inligting is ook "free of charge". As projekleier het Marius Burger my beslis beindruk. Sy werksetiek, aansteeklike entoesiasme en doelgerigte werkwyse maak van hom 'n ideale persoon in dié posisie.

Pierre Pierre practises sit-and-wait herpetology.  

Dit was voorwaar 'n onvergeetlike trip in een van die mooiste dele van die land. Dat 50/50 dele daarvan verfilm het, was uiteraard 'n bykomende bonus. Hulle sê dat 'n mens alles moet beproef en die goeie moet behou. Die trippie met sy talle goeie momente verdien waarlik 'n ereplek in my geheuebank.

poppies Die poppies op SARCA 12 was maar lelik!  

Species recorded during SARCA 12:



Acanthocerus atricollis - Southern Tree Agama
Agama aculeata distanti - Distant's Ground Agama
Agama atra - Southern Rock Agama
Chamaeleo dilepis - Common Flap-neck Chameleon
Cordylus vandami - Van Dam's Girdled Lizard
Gerrhosaurus flavigularis - Yellow-throated Plated Lizard
Gerrhosaurus validus - Giant Plated Lizard
Heliobolus lugubris - Bushveld Lizard
Homopholis wahlbergii - Wahlberg's Velvet Gecko
Ichnotropus squamulosa - Common Rough-scaled Lizard
Lygodactylus capensis - Cape Dwarf Gecko
Nucras ornata - Ornate Sandveld Lizard
Chondrodactylus turneri - Turner's Gecko
Pachydactylus vansoni - Van Son's Gecko
Panaspis wahlbergii - Wahlberg's Snake-eyed Skink
Panaspis maculicolis - Spotted-neck Snake-eyed Skink
Platysaurus o. orientalis - Sekukhune Flat Lizard
Trachylepis capensis - Cape Skink
Trachylepis margaritifer - Rainbow Skink
Trachylepis striata - Eastern Striped Skink
Trachylepis v. varia - Variable Skink

skink Panaspis maculicolis - Spotted-neck Snake-eyed Skink.  


Atractaspis bibronii - Bibron's Stiletto Snake
Bitis arietans - Puff Adder
Causus defilippii - Snouted Night Adder
Dasypeltis scabra - Rhombic Egg-eater
Dendroaspis polylepis - Black Mamba*
Lamprophis capensis - Brown House Snake
Mehelya nyassae - Black File Snake
Naja mossambica - Mozambique Spitting Cobra
Psammophis brevirostris - Short-snouted Grass Snake
Psammophis mossambicus - Olive Grass Snake
Psammophis subtaeniatus - Western Stripe-bellied Sand Snake
Psammophylax tritaeniatus - Striped Skaapsteker
Python natalensis - Southern African Python*
Rhinotyphlops lalandei - Delalande's Beaked Blind Snake
Telescopus s. semiannulatus - Eastern Tiger Snake

file snake Mehelya nyassae Black File Snake  


Kinixys sp. - Hinge Tortoise (ID still to be determined)
Psammobates tentorius tentorius - Common Tent Tortoise**
Stigmochelys pardalis - Leopard Tortoise


Crocodylus niloticus - Nile Crocodile*



Amietophrynus gutturalis - Guttural Toad
Amietophrynus rangeri - Raucous Toad
Breviceps adspersus - Bushveld Rain Frog
Kassina senegalensis - Bubbling Kassina
Poyntonophrynus fenoulheti - Northern Pygmy Toad
Schismaderma carens - Red Toad
Tomopterna natalensis - Natal Sand Frog

* = records obtained by means of interviews with farmers.
** = species that were found along the way to the surveying site, i.e. not within the priority region.


We thank the 4x4 Eco Challenge for the sponsored Toyota bakkie (see Our luxury accommodation with scrumptious meals, at a damn fine price, was at Bonamanzi Lodge. We are grateful to Daan and Massie Venter of Bonamanzi Lodge (013-2737034) for their pampering.

Once again a big thanks to the 50/50 television team, Debbie Rogers, Johan Grotman Botha, Leon Hagen and Mandla Mlambo, for preparing a two-part documentary that was shown in November 2006.

Photos by Marius Burger and Marcel Witberg

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 19 July 2007 ]

    June 22, 2024, 5:25 am