Trip Report: Namibia Herpetology Tour 2022

Trip Summary: H.E.R.P Tour 29 January – 14 February 2022

(text and photos by Sean Braine)

 

Introduction:

This Herping expedition starts in the Capital of Namibia, Windhoek, and covers the south of Namibia to the Orange River, carrying on through the central Namib Desert to the coastal town of Swakopmund and on an added extension to the Etosha National Park for some game viewing.

The main tour was Herping specific and we managed a respectable list of 83 species of Reptiles and Amphibians for the full tour. The extension to Etosha National Park was mammal focused and a little herping was done where possible. Some of the group arrived several days pre tour and managed to see several species around Windhoek before the main trip started. They spent their time with local herpetologist, Francois Theart, who is currently busy with a Zebra Cobra tracking project as well as working on an effective antivenin for this species.  He does rescues in the capital city and had a few good species for them to photograph and release.

These species included Black Mamba, Anchieta’s Cobra, Puff Adder, Speckled Shield Cobra, Brown House Snake, Bibron’s Burrowing Asp, Flap-necked Chameleon, Leopard Tortoise, Kalahari round-snouted worm lizard, Western Yellow-bellied Sand Snake, African Rock Python, Boomslang, Rock Monitor, Windhoek Gecko, Western Tiger Snake, Helmeted Terrapin and Dwarf Plated Lizard. Frogs and toads seen included Tremelo Sand Frog, Bushveld Rain Frog and Boettger’s Caco.

 

Day 1: The tour officially starts today and the group head to a nearby dam where we have located Zebra Cobra before. No snakes were found but several species of Lizards were added. After releasing a few species rescued by Francois Theart, we spent the evening night cruising near Windhoek but due to heavy rain we only managed a Brown House Snake and several Frog and Toad Species.

Key Species:  Speckled Shield Cobra (Aspidilaps lubricus scutatus), Cape Wolf Snake (Lycophidion capense), Rhombic Egg-eater (Dasypeltis scabra), Namib Rock Agama (Agama planiceps), Western Rock Skink (Trachylepis sulcata), Variable Skink (Trachylepis varia), Jordan’s Girdled Lizard (Karusasaurus jordani), Brown house snake (Boaedon capensis), Festive Gecko (Narudasia festiva), Ground Agama (Agama oculeata), Bubbling Kassina (Kassina senegalensis), Common Clawed Frog (Xenopus laevis), Western Olive toad (Sclerophrys poweri).

 

Day 2: A travel day spent getting as far south as possible with a few stops roadside on-route. A night cruise near Keetmanshoop did not produce much, possibly due to heavy rains the previous few days, but a few gecko species and a few Scorpions were added for the trip.

Key Species: Knobel’s Agama (Agama Knobeli), Southern Rock Agama ( Agama Atra), Anchieta’s Agama (Agama anchietae), Giant Ground gecko (Chondrodactylus angulifer angulifer), Fischer’s Gecko (Chondrodactylus laevigatus), Plain Sand Lizard (Pedioplanis inornata).

 

Day 3: A really early start in the morning gave our first attempt at Desert Mountain Adder. The first site we stopped at we found a beautiful specimen within 30 min. Anyone who has searched for these dwarf adders will know how special a find that is. We also located several Marbled Rubber Frogs under a tin sheet at the site.

Moving further east we were given the unfortunate news that the road to Oranjemund had been closed, due to the Orange River being in flood, so we rerouted to stay in Rosh Pinah. On route southwards we had our first attempt at Nama Padloper, but were unsuccessful, except for several dead specimens. We did however manage to find an adult and young Bushmanland Tent Tortoise and a Karoo Sand Snake. Arriving late to Rosh Pinah we did a short night cruise but due to a really cold wind, there was very little activity and no new species were seen.

 Key Species Desert Mountain Adder (Bitis xeropaga), Bushmanland Tent Tortoise (Psammobates tentorius verroxii), Karoo Sand Snake (Psammophis notostictus), Karoo Girdled Lizard (Karusasaurus polyzonus), Variegated Skink (Trachylepis variegata).

 

Day 4: A very cold start to the morning didn’t produce many reptiles but as ithe day warmed up we continued our search for the Nama Padlopers, still no luck even though we found at least 8 dead shells, probably due to the extended drought in the area having hit the population as well as the possibility of Crows predating them. We did however hit pot luck with an extremely large gravid female Many-horned Adder. This area is not really known for this species which made it even more special a find. For the evening we split the group between night cruising and walking. We managed a lovely Bug-eyed House Snake and Spotted Barking Gecko being new and large numbers of Giant Ground Gecko and Fischer’s Gecko. We unfortunately found three freshly road killed Coral Shield Cobras (Aspidelaps lubricus lubricus) which was disappointing as we never managed to see a live one throughout the trip. Aardwolf and Bat-eared Fox are also worth a mention as they are difficult to see nocturnal mammals. The walking crew managed to find a new trip species in the form of Montane Gecko.

It should be mentioned that this area holds very interesting botanical treasures and several are rare and endangered succulents including Pachypodium namaquanum, Lithops karasmontana bella, Gonialoe variegata, Cotyledon orbiculata, Larryleachia marlothii and Stapelia sp.

Key Species: Many-horned Adder (Bitis cornuta), Bug-eyed House Snake (Boaedon mentalis), Namaqua Sand Lizard (Pedioplanis namaquensis), Spotted barking gecko (Ptenopus garrulus maculatus), Montane Gecko (Pachydactylus montanus).

 

Day 5: We decided to give another shot at finding Nama Padloper and decided to try some new terrain that looked like good habitat. On the way we searched some termite mounds for possible Elapids finding a Speckled Thick-toed Gecko in the process.

Reaching the area in mind we found an adult female Nama Padloper in the first few minutes. After finding so many dead specimens we were elated to finally find a live one. This species is extremely limited in distribution and quite thin on the ground. A Namibian endemic that not many people get to see and is threatened by collection for the pet trade, roadkill and other climatic factors.

We continued west toward the coast stopping for lunch with the Namib Horses and reaching the coast in the late afternoon. We found the first Namib Sand Snake. An extremely strong south west wind prevented any night work.

Key Species Nama Padloper (Chersobius solus), Namib Sand Snake (Psammophis leightoni namibensis), Speckled Thick-toed Gecko (Pachydactylus punctatus), Ground Agama (Agama oculeata), Trachylepis capensis, Meroles cuneirostris

 

Day 6: The day was spent on the Luderitz peninsula exploring the unique forms of several species as we had already found the main target for the area, Many-horned Adder. Several interesting forms of some species occur here and an interesting black form of Western Rock Skink, a weird bluish form of Variegated Skink, a small bright coloured Ground Agama and what should technically be Plain Sand Lizard but certainly looks nothing like any other in its species. A pretty Karoo Sand Snake was also photographed, the ones on the peninsula seem more darkly coloured than in the interior.

Some Dusky Dolphins and African Penguins were also found.

Key Species: Strange forms of Variegated and Western Rock Skink (Trachylepis variegata and sulcata nigra), Plain Sand Lizard (Pedioplanis inornata), Small-scaled Desert Lizard (Meroles micropholidotes) and Ground Agama (Agama oculeata).

 

Day 7: A long day of travel with several stops on the route north toward the massive red dunes of Sossusvlei. With our minds set on finding a Cobra we checked every Sociable Weaver nest along the road and hit it lucky spotting the unmistakable black body of a large Black Spitting Cobra. A magnificent specimen just shy of 2m. Arriving late we did a night cruise after dinner and added Namib Giant Ground Gecko but due to rain we decided to cut it short.

Key Species: Black Spitting Cobra (Naja nigricincta woodi), Namib Giant Ground Gecko (Chondrodactylus angulifer namibensis).

 

Day 8: The day was spent in the Namib’s sand sea exploring the area and looking for the target Peringuey’s Adder. The day heated up quickly and we managed to find the redder coloured form of Peringuey’s Adder that occurs here. This evening we once again split the group into road cruising and walking. The road cruise produced a young Horned Adder and plenty geckos.

Key Species:  Peringuey’s Adder (Bitis peringueyi), Horned Adder (Bitis caudalis), Namib Giant Ground Gecko (Chondrodactylus angulifer namibensis)

 

Day 9: On this day we travelled toward the coast through the central Namib desert. The habitat changes dramatically as you near the coast line bringing with it a bunch of new species. Stops on the route provided Wedge snouted Skink, Spotted Desert Lizard and Namaqua Chameleon. Arriving on the coast late afternoon we had a take away dinner and did a night walk in the gravel plains which produced six gecko species. The targets being Namib Web-footed Gecko, Koch’s ground gecko, Common Namib Day Gecko and Carp’s Barking Gecko.

Key Species Namaqua Chameleon (Chamaeleo namaquensis), Wedge-snouted Skink (Trachylepis acutilabris), Koch’s Ground Gecko (Colopus kochii), Carp’s Barking Gecko (Ptenopus carpi), Namib Web-footed Gecko (Pachydactylus rangei), Common Namib Day Gecko (Rhoptropus afer) and Spotted Desert Lizard (Meroles suborbitalis).

Day 10: A morning was spent in the coastal dunes and gravel plains looking for a few endemics. We found several of the paler coastal forms of Peringuey’s Adder as well as a large darkly coloured female Horned Adder. Other localized Namib specials included Shovel-snouted Lizard, Reticulated Desert Lizard and Fitzsimmon’s Burrowing Skink. That evening we night walked an area, north of Swakopmund, which delivered the highly localized Marais Gecko and Bradfield’s Namib Day Gecko. More Fischer’s Gecko, Koch’s Ground Gecko and Carp’s Barking Gecko were observed as well. The Namib Round Eared Sengi and Setzer’s Hairy footed Gerbil were interesting mammals added as well as seeing a Black-backed Jackal chasing a Cape Hare, whether he was successful or not remains a mystery.

Key Species: Peringuey’s Adder (Bitis peringueyi), Horned Adder  (Bitis caudalis), Shovel Snouted Lizard (Meroles anchietae), Fitzsimmon’s Burrowing Skink (Typhlacontius brevipes), Reticulated Desert Lizard (Meroles reticulatus), Marais’s Gecko (Pachydactylus maraisi), Bradfield’s Namib Day Gecko (Rhoptropus bradfieldi), Namib Round-eared Sengi (Macroscelides flavicaudatus), Setzer’s Hairy-footed Gerbil (Gerbillurus setzeri).

 

Day 11: We departed the coast eastwards toward the Erongo mountains. Good amounts of rain had fallen and a huge storm was brewing on our arrival, so strong it blew over 3 trees around our lodge. During our lunch stop on-route we managed to find another large Horned Adder and one of the pretty forms of Velvety Thick-toed Gecko from that area. Ovambo tree and Kalahari Tree Skink were also new for the trip. A few frogs and toads were active and we added Hoesch’s Pygmy Toad

Due to heavy thunderstorms we were not able to do much through the remainder of the afternoon. Some of us attempted a night cruise on a stretch of gravel road but due to the amount of rain nothing was moving.

Key Species:  Horned Adder  (Bitis caudalis), Velvety Thick-toed Gecko (Pachydactylus bicolor), Ovambo Tree Skink (Trachylepis binotata), Kalahari Tree Skink (Trachylepis spilogaster), Hoesch’s Pygmy Toad

 

Day 12: Today was a travel day to Windhoek as some of the group were flying out and needed early PCR tests. Rain also prevented any night work that evening. The rest of the group would carry on with the Etosha extension the following day. A dead Kunene Shield Cobra was found on the way.

 

Day 13: The staff at the hotel alerted us to a Boomslang in the local Weaver colony. After a quick photo session with the Boomslang as well as a rescued Zebra Cobra and Puff Adder, we departed toward Etosha National Park.

A halfway lunch had a young Zebra Cobra show itself. We were met with yet more rain at our destination but we attempted a night cruise in the rain which produced many frogs and toads as well as one of the big targets, Giant Bullfrog. A small Puff Adder also made an appearance in the downpour. New frog species included Ornate Frog and Tandy’s Sand Frog.

Key Species:  Boomslang (Dispholidus typus), Puff Adder (Bitis arietans), Zebra Cobra (Naja nigricincta nigricincta), Giant Bullfrog (Pyxicephalus adspersus), Ornate Frog (Hildebrandtia ornate), Tandy’s Sand Frog (Tomopterna tandyi).

 

Day 14: An early start into the park had us driving toward the central area toward Halali. We had good sightings of many Plains game such as Plains Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Springbok, Black-faced Impala, Angolan Giraffe, Red Hartebeest, Steenbok, Common Ostrich and Oryx Antelope. The highlight today was finding a Cheetah on the hunt along the pan. We had views of White and Black Rhino as well as a feeding Honey badger.

Key Species Cheetah, White Rhino, Black Rhino, Honey Badger.

 

Day 15: Another full day in the park provided a large male Leopard along the main road. We also had a large male White Rhino lying in a mud pool on the road followed by a large male Lion at a nearby waterhole. A drive into the woodlands of the east of the park we managed to get a pretty rare sighting of a large Eland bull. The diminutive Damara Dik-dik also made an appearance before departing the park.

In the summer months this park has amazing bird watching opportunities, with all the migrant species present and in breeding plumage. The new Herp today was the endemic, Etosha Agama.

Key Species: Leopard, Lion, White Rhino, Eland, Etosha Agama (Agama etoshae).

 

Day 16: Today was a travel day back to Windhoek with a bit of time for souvenir shopping on route.

 

In conjunction with H.E.R.P  Herpetological, Education and  Research Project    (Click Here)