On the 16th of August, I delivered a snake demonstration for students of Shaw Park Primary School. Although young, the students were incredibly attentive and took every opportunity to ask questions about the snakes on display. At the end of the demontration, almost all the kids took the opportunity to handle some of the non-venomous snakes, some of them for the first time. All in all it was a great experience, and the first time I had delivered a snake talk at the school, which is always a bonus.
On the 16th of August I traveled to Sibuya Private Game Reserve, about 10km from Kenton-on-Sea, and presented a snake talk for the rangers working there. The talk focused on the ‘Snakes of Albany’ and discussed snake biology, snake identification and snakebite treatment. The talk was well received and was followed by a short snake handling tutorial, in which I showcased the correct management strategy for problem snakes. Following this, all the rangers took the opportunity to handle some of the non-venomous species on display.
The whole event was filmed by a British film crew, whom were filming a documentary segment about British expats working in South Africa. Thanks goes to Sibuya Private Game Reserve for inviting me. It was a thoroughly enjoyable day, I look forward to seeing the final film segment on TV next year.
On 14 August, I delivered a snake talk to Grade 9 learners at Victoria Girls High school. The aim was to expose the girls to the amazing world of reptiles, and more specifically snakes. The talk ran for 30 minutes and consisted of general information about Grahamstown reptile diversity, followed by a short breakdown of snake biology and the common snakes of the area.
The talk was followed by a 15 minute show-and-tell session, in which I showcased some some live specimens to the grade. Overall, it was a great experience, with everyone thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to interact with live snakes, a first for some of the students. Special thanks goes to Chad Emslie (VG teacher) for organising it and to Victoria Girls High school for hosting me.
Last year I was interviewed by Anima McBrown in connection with my snake-related work in and around Grahamstown. The result was this awesomely written article in this years edition of the Rhodos Magazine. The publication is dedicated to the communication and advancement of Rhodes University, and I am very proud to feature in it. You can find the article in the attached PDF Document.
On the 27th of July 2019, I did a snake presentation for members of the Grahamstown Garden Club in Grahamstown. The talk was well received with people eagerly asking questions throughout the talk. I spoke about the common and endemic species of snake found in the Albany area, and what to do if one encounters a snake in their daily lives. In addition to detailing the snakes of the area, I also took the opportunity to discuss, in brief, the lizards, tortoises and scorpions found in the area. The talk was capped off with a short explanation of snake venom and what to do in the unlikely instance of a snakebite. Thank you to the Grahamstown Garden Club for having me, and taking the opportunity to learn more about their local herpetofauna.
During mid-June I ventured coast wards to do a frog talk for the Probus Club, at the Port Alfred Ski Boat Club. Check out the story, which was covered in ‘Talk of the Town’, the local Port Alfred newspaper.
On the 5th of June, I presented a snake awareness talk and demonstration for school students at Thomas Baines Nature Reserve, in honour of World Environmental Day. The talk was attended by various-aged primary school students from multiple different Grahamstown Schools.
There are few thing in this world as wonderful as watching a child handle a snake for the first time. It is the amalgamation of fear and awe, it is joy personified.
Although young, the students were incredibly receptive to what I had to say and almost every single one, no matter how apprehensive, took the opportunity to touch the harmless brown house snake on display. The talk was organised by the staff of Thomas Baines Nature Reserve in collaboration with the Eastern Cape Parks Board. It was a great day all round and I am happy I could be part of it.
During mid-June I ventured coast wards to do a frog talk for the Probus Club, at the Port Alfred Ski Boat Club. The talk was incredibly well received with over 80 people attending on the day. In addition to the members of the club, the talk was also attended by Talk of the Town (Local Port Alfred newspaper). In the talk I discussed basic frog biology, behavior and the threats that face amphibians.
The talk was capped off with a quick run through of all the frog species found in the Eastern Cape area. I thoroughly enjoyed giving this talk, because of the novel content coupled with an incredibly receptive audience. Thanks to the Probus Club for hosting me and for showing such a keen interest in one of our most underappreciated animals… frogs.
On friday the 10th of May, I set up a stand at the Science Open Day, hosted in the Rhodes University Life Sciences Building. I represented the field of Herpetology alongside several other members of the Zoology and Entomology Department, whom showcased their respective fields (Ornithology, Mammalogy, Biocontrol etc) on the day. The event was also attended by members from all the other departments in the Science Faculty. The event was geared towards sparking interest in science-orientated careers, in the high school students that attended the event. The students thoroughly enjoyed the event and took the opportunity to look at all the awesome things offered by the different departments. As expected, the snakes roused a lot of interest in the students, with many taking the opportunity to handle a snake for the first time. All in all, it was a great day for all that attended.
On the 5th of May I hosted the second ‘Critter Walk’ of 2019, for a record breaking crowd. Unlike previous ‘Critter walks’, everyone who attended had to pay a small fee, which was donated to two Rhodes athletes in a effort to raise funds for their Taekwondo World Championships, in Brazil, later this year.
Everyone met in front of the Life Sciences building and they were treated to a 45 minute snakes demonstration, featuring 11 different species of snake. The snaked demo was incredibly well received with several people taking the opportunity to handle a snake for the first time. After the snake demo, we all set off, in convoy, for a lekker piece of land just outside of Grahamstown.
Everyone enjoyed the wide open spaces, with many of the kids running off, only to be rediscovered hours later. The day was a massive success as we managed to find several species of scorpion, many different reptiles and tons of insects. All in all, the day was a massive success and something I am all to keen to replicate, in the not too distant future.
William Branch, Ninda Baptista, Chad Keates, Shelley Edwards
Two rare and endemic psammophines (Serpentes: Psammophiinae) occur in Angola. The taxonomic status of Psammophylax rhombeatus ocellatus Bocage, 1873and Psammophis ansorgii Boulenger, 1905 have long remained problematic, with both having varied past and present taxonomic assignments, and whose distributions may therefore present zoogeographic anomalies. Little was known of their biology, habitat associations, or phylogenetic relationships. New material was collected during biodiversity surveys of the Humpata Plateau, near Lubango, Angola. It allowed fuller descriptions of scalation and live coloration for both species, and resolution of their taxonomic status. Genetic analysis confirms that both are distinct at the specific level. In addition, within Psammophis, Jalla’s Sand Snake (Psammophis jallae Peracca, 1896), of which P. rohani Angel, 1925, remains a synonym, is sister to P. ansorgii, and Boulenger’s comment on similarities with P. crucifer are not supported. The status of an unusual skaapsteker from Calueque, Cunene Province, Angola, is discussed and its assignment to Ps. ocellatus is provisional and requires additional material for taxonomic resolution. The new P. ansorgii records from Tundavala represent a range (+400 km southwest) and altitude (1800 m to 2286 m a.s.l) extension from the previous only known precise locality of Bela Vista (= Catchiungo), Huambo Province, whilst that for Ps. ocellatus doubles the known altitude from 1108 m to 2286 m a.s.l and extends the range about 122 km to the northwest from historical material from the plateau of Huíla and Cunene provinces.
Psammophis ansorgii, Psammophylax ocellatus, new distribution, phylogenetic relationships, Angolan escarpment, montane grassland, Reptilia
Another great blog entry by Jessica Evans, that lists, explains and debunks some of the most popular myths pertaining to snakes.