A trip to the Transkei

Text adapted from trip report completed by Luke Kemp and I last month .

Purpose of trip

Recently Luke kemp and I joined a data collecting trip in the Transkei forested region as part of an ongoing study, spearheaded by Stellenbosch University. There were many teams studying many facets of forest ecology but we, Werner Conradie (Head Herpetologist at Bayworld Museum) and Theo Busschau (MSc student at Stellenbosch University) were tasked with collecting herpetological samples. All specimens found by the group were captured and collected to be accessioned into the Bayworld museum for future research. All samples which fell within my research focus (spotted skaapstekers) were sub-sampled and taken. The reptiles and amphibian records were also uploaded onto the Animal Demography Unit (ADU) Virtual museum.

IMG_5918.JPGFrom left to right: Werner Conradie, Theo Busschau, Luke Kemp.

Baziya forest

Our trip started at 12:30 pm on the 12 of January 2017. We met up with Werner Conradie from the Bayworld museum in PE. After a five-hour trip through the scattered villages of the Transkei, we arrived at our accommodation in Baziya forest, east of Umthatha. We set our tent in the garden of the Merensky foresters office with the rest of the Stellenbosch team, East London, Albany and Umthatha museum staff. We spent the next four days with the herp team in the forests and escarpment around Baziya. We collected 6 species of amphibians and 9 species of reptiles in this area. Many records represented range extensions due to poor sampling in this area.

Umthatha and surrounds

On the 16th, we broke up camp and moved to the luxury of the Umthatha backpackers. After camping in the rain for the previous four days, the small bungalows were great and our gear and cloths could finally dry, not to mention the welcome of a hot shower. Our accommodation was covered by Mike Cherry (Head of the research project) but using, FBIP grant money, we paid our fair share for food. The next six days were spent sampling the forests and vleis north of the Umthatha dam and further north into the escarpment near Tsolo. We collected more animals and got the forth record of Mountain Caco (Cacosternum parvum) for the province. In the end I succeeded in getting a specimen of my study animal, spotted skaapsteker (Psammophylax rhombeatus), and the Stellenbosch team also recorded their study animals. On the 22nd of January, we packed up and left for the HAA conference in northern Zululand.

mthatha pics.pngFigure  A – D) Some of the habitat we sampled. E) Our campsite at Baziya. F) Curing specimens late into the night with Werner Conradie. G) Photographing a Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus) with the herp team. Picture by Luke Kemp.

What I got out of the trip?

Although well-traveled in the Eastern Cape, and irrespective of prior herpetological experience in the field,  I learnt a lot from this field trip. Werner Conradie was a remarkable source of information, and through helping with fieldwork, I gained invaluable experience in a professional scientific setting with trained scientists. In addition to networking and learning from Werner (a major contributor to South African herpetology), I also got the opportunity to meet and build relationships with scientists, both young and old, from similar and very different fields of study. It was a great opportunity for me to learn and network and through going on this trip,  I have made invaluable connections which I may not have made so easily on my own.

All in all it was a great second leg, to Luke and I’s nationwide, month-long, herping adventure. Next stop… Hluhluwe, for the Herpetological Association of Africa (HAA) conference 2017.

Species list

Class Species
Common name Scientific name
Amphibia Plaintive rain frog Breviceps verrucosus
Bushveld rain frog Breviceps adspersus
Bronze caco Cacosternum nanum
Boettger’s caco Cacosternum boettgeri
Mountan caco Cacosternum parvum
Clicking stream frog Strongylupis greyii
Striped stream frog Strongylopus fasciatus
Common river frog Amietia delalandi
Mascarene grass frog Ptychadena mascareniensis
Raucous toad Sclerophrys rangeri
Common platanna Xenopus laevis
Painted reed frog Hyperolius marmoratus
Reptilia Rinkhals Hemachatus haemachatus
Puff adder Bitis arietans
Natal black snake Macrelaps microlepidotus
Thread snake spp. Leptotyphlops spp.
Red lipped herald Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia
Brown water snake Lycodonomorphus rufulus
Spotted skaapsteker Psammophylax r. rhombeatus
Cape skink Trachylepis capensis
Variable skink Trachylepis varia
Speckled rock skink Trachylepis punctatissimus
Cape girdled lizard Corydlus cordylus
Drakensburg crag lizard Pseudocordylus melanotus subviridis
Tembu flat gecko Afroedura tembulica
Spotted gecko Pachydactylus maculatus
Delalande’s sandveld lizard Nucras lalandii

 Some of the cooler specimens we found


Plaintive Rain Frog (Breviceps verrucosus)


Bushveld Rain Frog (Breviceps adspersus)


Brown Water Snake (Lycodonomorphus rufulus)


Natal Black Snake (Macrelaps microlepidotus)


Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus)

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