Back to the Forests

From the 2nd to the 6th of October 2018 I joined Werner Conradie (Head Curator of Herpetology at Port Elizabeth Museum) for a herping expedition to western Kwazulu Natal. We joined a crew of scientists from all over the country in an effort to find as many animals as we could, as part of large scale forest-focussed project, headed by Stellenbosch University. Whilst other scientific groups were tasked with finding snails, birds, bats and invertebrates, myself and Werner were tasked with finding as many reptiles and amphibians as we possibly could.

In our time there we traipsed through Ingeli forest and Gomo Forest and scoured the area surrounding Franklin and Kokstad. The trip was a success, with us finding most of our targets. In the end we managed to find over 15 different species of reptile and frog, with some of the most notable finds being natal black snake (Macrelaps microlepidotus), Kwazulu Natal dwarf chameleon (Bradypodion melanocephalum) and plaintive rainfrog (Breviceps verrucosus). We also managed to find a spotted skaapsteker (Psammophylax rhombeatus), my study animal, a massive bonus for the trip.

All in all it was a great trip with lots of laughs. Thanks ‘Werner Man’ for always making it fun.

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End of Year Snake Demo

On wednesday the 14th of November I hosted the last snake demonstration of 2018 in front of the Rhodes University, on Barratt lawns. The demo was incredibly well-attended with over fifty coming along on the day. At the snake demo I showcased all the snakes that I had removed from Grahamstown properties the week before.

Because of the warm weather that preceded the demo, the talk was also well-attended. So much so that I showcased over seven different species on the day. It was great day all around with both kids and retirees taking the opportunity to hold and interact with a snake for the first time. Thanks to all that attended, I look forward to hosting the first critter walk of 2019 in the coming weeks.

Birthday Critter Walk

Towards the end of last year I hosted a Birthday Critter Walk for a young Grahamstown boy and all his friends. Whilst some kids like like to go to the cinema, or to the Go Kart track for their birthdays, that doesn’t seem to hold for the youth of Grahamstown, whom have an insatiable appetite for nature. The day was a great success and whilst we weren’t able to find any cape cobras or ‘monster pythons’, we were able to find a whole host of small and wonderful creatures, ranging from scorpions and spiders to frogs and lizards. Overall, It was a great day in the sun, with lots of laughs and even more reptiles.

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Upgraded

I am proud to announce that I am no longer a Masters of Science student (MSc), as I have recently upgraded to being a PhD candidate. What this basically means is that I forgo masters and go straight to doctorate level. The work that I have been doing, in completion of my MSc, will now be adjusted, modified and expanded upon, to create a PhD dissertation that I will hopefully submit the year after next.

My masters work that originally focused on the skaapsteker genus (Psammophylax), will be expanded upon to create a study that looks at the entire sub-family (Psammophiinae). My updated focus will build on the molecular and morphometric work done in my masters and add an ecological element to create a more rounded, more sophisticated, more thorough explanation of the evolutionary mechanisms influencing the sub-family.

Never in a million years did I ever think I would be in this position. Back in grade ten I was called into the vice-principals office to discuss my subject selection. During this meeting, I was ‘advised’ to drop science, because I was told I lack the academic capabilities to pass the subject. Add Eight years and now I am doing my PhD. Whilst there were a lot of people that did not believe in me, there were a lot of people that did.  Thanks to my family, my friends, my colleagues and my supervisors for all the support. Special thanks goes to my supervisors, Dr Shelley Edwards and Werner Conradie, for their constant support and belief in me, it is appreciated more than you can possibly imagine.

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D&J Ranchhod Bursary

On the 19th of October I was very fortunate to receive the inaugural D&J Ranchhod Bursary in honour of the late Mr Dale Ranchhod, a long-serving member of the Zoology & Entomology Department. I received the certificate from Mrs Jasu Ranchhod at a formal function held in the Department foyer. I was nominated for the award by members of the academic staff making the award an incredible honour.

After the formal ceremony I spoke to members of the family and discussed snakes, snakes and more snakes.  Warm thanks goes to the Department and to the Ranchhod family for considering me for this prestigious award.

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Laura Starke Memorial Bursary

I am honoured to announce that this year I received the Laura Starke Memorial Bursary Award for the second time. Unlike many bursaries that focus on academic merit, this bursary is special in the sense that it takes more than ones’ academic achievements into account when selecting a candidate. For this reason I am incredibly grateful to receive this award because it represents the acknowledgement of the sum of my efforts within the field of herpetology, not just what I put down on a piece of paper.

The bursary is in memory of Laura C Starke who graduated in Entomology and Botany at Rhodes University in 1969.  She was a true nature lover and worked in the Protea Unit in Stellenbosch.  She lost her life in a mountaineering accident on 26 October 1975.

As you may have noticed from my endless supply of content, I like to get out into the world… get into the wild. I like to feel it, touch it, hold it and see it, but above all else, I like to bridge the gap, to show people whats out there, to make science more accessible, so that everyone can marvel at the beauty of the world. Thank you to everyone that nominated me for this award, it is appreciated more than you can possibly imagine.

 

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On Wednesday the 10th of October I attended the Prize giving for the WESSA Heritage Day Photo Competition at NELM (National English Literary Museum). The photo competition was open to the public and had three categories, namely: scholar, amateur and professional. I was fortunate enough to win the amateur category with my photo of the juvenile boomslang perched in a tree (Photo below). Thanks goes to all the organisers of the event and to all those that voted for my photo. Photos courtesy of the Grocott’s Mail.

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The the 9th of September, I attended the WESSA/ Grocott’s Mail #CelebrateNaturalHeritage Bio-Bash and Photo Walk at the Makana Botanical Gardens. The day was designed to teach the youth of Grahamstown about the amazing wildlife that surrounds them. It also aimed to ignite some creative flair through encouraging artistic expression through photography. My colleagues (Anthony Evlambiou, Bruce Roestoff and Cara Trivella) and I helped out by guiding the students through the gardens and helping them with their photography.

After the Bio-Bash and associated photography session, the students and mentors gathered for a photography crash course by the Rhodes Journalism Department. The day was capped off with me giving a short snake demonstration at the amphitheater at the bottom of the Botanical Gardens. At the end of the snake demo, I gave the kids the opportunity to handle some of the non-venomous on display.

All in all, the day was a great success. Congratulations goes to both WESSA and Grocott’s Mail for organizing such an amazing event. Thanks also goes to both of them for allowing me to be part of such a worthwhile initiative.  For more information, check out the attached newspaper article: Kids have a wild time in the city . All Photos are property of Grocott’s Mail.

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On the 12th of October I accompanied EOH (Coastal and Environmental Services) to Peddie to do an informal talk on snake awareness for workers of the Eastern Cape Roads Service. In Peddie, work is underway to improve the road infrastructure of the area. Unfortunately, human-snake conflict is high due to the remote and wild settings the workers find themselves in. I was called in to help mitigate the conflict by teaching the road workers about snake awareness and what to do if one encounters a snake.

The talk was held in an abandoned class room and due to logistical issues, I ended up having to do the snake talk without a projector or any visual aids, other than the snakes themselves. I started off by talking about snake biology, this was followed by basic snake identification, and lastly, I discussed snakebite prevention and treatment. The talk went very well and it was clear form the response of the crowd that I had put many of their minds at ease. At the end of the talk, I showcased several of the snakes that they were likely to come across in their daily work. Thanks goes to EOH for giving me the opportunity to talk to the workers, thereby reducing human-snake conflict in the area. Photos courtesy of EOH.

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On the third of September I did a snake demonstration for students of the Graeme College Junior School. The demonstration started with a short overview of the snakes of Grahamstown and was followed by a bit of information about snakebite and what to do if one encounters a wild snake. The kids were very excited and eagerly asked questions about all the snakes on display.

After the initial introduction, I showed them the venomous snakes from a safe distance. At the end of the demo, I allowed the kids to hold the non-venomous snakes. Many of the kids eagerly jumped at the opportunity to hold and pose with the snakes and some kids held a snake for the first time. The day was a great success with smiles all around.

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On Monday, the 1st of October I delivered a snake talk to COSATU Project Management Delegates from Rhodes Business School, at the the National English Literary Museum (NELM). The talk dealt with snake identification and myths and was followed by a short section on snakebite treatment. The talk was well received and at the end, a large portion of the delegates took the opportunity to handle and interact with the snakes that I had brought along on the day. Some of the delegates handled a snake for the first time in their lives.  Thanks to Rhodes Business school and, more specifically, Evert Knoesen for organising the talk.

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On Friday, the 28th of September myself and Dr Shelley Edwards delivered a snake talk to the entire Kingswood College High School in their school chapel. The talk dealt with snake biology and identification and  was followed by a short section on snakebite treatment. The talk was well received and at the end, a large portion of the students stayed behind to see the snakes on display. Although some of the students were scared, many of them took the opportunity to handle and interact with the snakes that we brought on the day. Some of the students handled a snake for the first time in their lives.  Thanks to Kingswood College for hosting the talk and Neil Hartzenberg for organising the talk.

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On Wednesday, the 26th of September I delivered a snake talk and demonstration to Grade 9 learners at Victoria Girls High School. Although some of the girls were scared of the snakes, many of the girls took the opportunity to handle and interact with the snakes on display. Some of the girls handled a snake for the first time in their lives. The talk was delivered to the entire ninth grade and was a great success. Thanks to Victoria Girls High School for hosting the talk and Chad Emslie for organising the talk.

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Two thousand and eighteen was an eventful year for me because not only have I made huge strides in my professional career, but I have also managed to make a sizable impact on the larger Grahamstown community through my ever expanding snake awareness program. In recognition of my contribution to the city, I was nominated for two prestigious awards by Rhodes University; namely the Rhodes Community Engagement Award and the Rhodes Environmental Award.

Although I won neither, I am proud to announce that I came runners-up in the Individual Environmental Award Category (Rhodes Environmental Award) and third place in the Student Researcher of the Year category for the Community Engagement Award (Rhodes Community Engagement Award). Thanks goes to all those that nominated  me and to Rhodes University for considering me for the awards.

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from the 13th to the 16th of August I attended the Joint SANBI Biodiversity Information Management & Foundational Biodiversity Information Programme (FBIP) Forum in Cape St Francis. I attended the conference with my supervisor Dr Shelley Edwards (Lecturer Rhodes University) and we were joined by my co-supervisor; Werner Conradie (PE Museum Head Herpetological Curator) and friend; Theo Busschau (Masters Student Stellenbosch University).

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The conference was well-attended with over a hundred delegates from all over the country. While topics varied from ants to fungus, and from snakes to bats, the overarching theme of the conference was simple; Biodiversity, and the study of it within Africa. At the conference I presented my Psammophylax genetic research in the form a five minute speed presentation. The talk was well-received and I got a lot of questions at the end. You can listen to presentation by clicking on the link provided:

On the second last day of the conference, we all took the opportunity to search the nearby coastal town, Oyster bay, for salt marsh geckos. Whilst originally considered to be incredibly restricted, recent targeted searches  have been fruitful and our little trip was much the same as we managed to find several geckos on the vegetated outcrops bordering the ocean. Furthermore, it was a new locality for the species.

The conference ended on the Friday and while it was very broad in terms of scope, it was a great experience as I was able to present my research to fellow scientists, and better yet, I got the opportunity to see my supervisors in action.