The Adventure in the search

Earlier this year, Lizaan Snyman and Anton Willemse Jnr completed the African Snakebite Institute’s (ASI) introductory Snake Awareness, First Aid for Snakebite and Venomous Snake Handling course. With the basic knowledge and training in snake handling, they travelled with ASI and Opposite Lock to Mapesu Private Game Reserve in Limpopo in search of various reptiles and amphibians.

The Limpopo region is the perfect destination when searching for various reptiles and amphibians as it has 78 different types of snakes, 37 species that are not venomous, and numerous other reptiles, amphibia and scorpions. Nine of the 78 snake species can inflict rather painful bites and seven are considered potentially deadly. The province is also home to numerous other reptiles, amphibia and scorpions.

The ASI team of Johan Marais and Luke Kemp is currently writing a field guide that will cover reptiles and amphibians of Southern Africa – set to be a first for Africa. As such, this four-day trip allowed them to catch and take updated photos for the book that will be released towards the end of 2022.

The ASI team travel thousands of kilometres throughout Southern Africa each year to present courses and learn more about reptiles and amphibians specific to the various regions for the articles, books and other pieces they write. For ASI to properly and safely do their heavy factual and detailed job, they need dependable vehicles that can take on any terrain, which is where Opposite Lock comes in. A conservationist at heart, their Managing Director Darrell van Zeil, decided to kit out the ASI vehicles with some of the best products and equipment on the market.

Day 1: An early start

Like most of our trips, the first morning started early and with a buzz of excitement for what this adventure had in store. Driving with Darrell, we met up with the ASI team at a fuel station and grabbed a quick coffee before taking on the 500-odd kilometres to the Mapesu Private Game Reserve close to Mapungubwe National Park. Regular stops, along with good music and some lively debate around the preferred 4×4’s on the market, kept the trip entertaining.

With more than an hour’s travel left, we pulled off to the side of the road to explore a koppie on a private farm. With his float like a butterfly sting like a bee movement, Luke caught a few frogs and a gecko. The standout for me was the Banded Rubber Frog with its beautiful bright reddish-orange bands set against its black body. After an hour on this koppie and the animals safely secured, we take on the last stretch of the pothole-filled road to the reserve. Not that the potholes seemed to be any problem for the Hilux from Opposite Lock which is fitted with Tough Dog suspension and adjustable airbags in the rear.

We arrived at the reserve just after 13:00 and unpacked our luggage into the luxury tents at the beautiful Wilderness Tented Camps before making our way to the lodge for a late lunch. Another member of Adventure Afrika, Anton Willemse Snr, and the director of the reserve, Johan Pfahl and a guide, Anne-Lieke van Dam, joined the group to discuss some terms and conditions of where we could go and what we may do. 

Refreshed and with a mutual understanding in place, Johan and Anne-Lieke took us to one of the giant baobabs on the reserve surrounded by koppies. We spent the rest of the afternoon here, overturning nearly every rock and searching almost every rock crevice for anything that moves. We found numerous lizards, geckos and scorpions, and Johan made the mistake of trying to pick up an Orange Lesser-Thicktail. Although the sting of this species is not medically problematic, it can cause some pain, as Johan found out. The sting was painful but it dissipated shortly, leaving him with pins and needles in his fingertip for the next 24 hours.

As the light started to fade, we headed back to our vehicles. Some of the group decided to continue the search by walking with Anne-Lieke from the baobab to the Wilderness Tent Camps. Along the way, Luke and Darrell worked together and caught a Common Giant Plated Lizard, and we also spotted a tortoise between some abandoned wooden beams.  

Back at camp, we capped off the successful day around a boma fire with some great bush pizzas, piping hot from the built-in pizza oven. The ASI team treated us to some of their exhilarating stories and shared some of the common misconceptions and myths about snakes.

Day 2: In search of snakes

After an early evening, we start the next day right with a few cups of coffee. Around 08:00, we make our way to an area with a reasonable koppie where we found some snakeskin before moving on to an abandoned house on the reserve known for being home to many snakes. We thoroughly searched the entire house, and upon exiting the house, we spot a Rock Monitor on the inside gutter of the porch, which we all passed when walking in.

Since good natural photos and a closer inspection of the Rock Monitor would be near impossible in its current position, we had to catch and move it. With a slow but precise movement, Luke grabbed the Rock Monitor behind the head with a tight grip while watching out for its tail which it uses like a whip to defend itself. After a small photoshoot, we placed the now more relaxed reptile close to where we found it and fanned out to scour the surrounding area for more reptiles and amphibians. 

Around 13:00, growling tummies had us turning back to camp in search of some fuel for the rest of the day. Satisfied with the morning’s search, we agreed to head out again later in the afternoon. After a short siesta and discussing what area we wanted to cover next, we made our way out to a rocky area. Anne-Lieke showed us some San-drawings, and we traversed the rocky area to find some geckos.

Unlike the previous evening, we decide against walking back to camp as there were signs of buffalo in the region – always be cautious about what you are doing in nature as mistakes can be costly and even deadly.

Day 3: More reptile action

On the last day, after covering and searching all the prominent areas on Mapesu Private Game Reserve that we planned on, we decided to move the search a few kilometres down the road to Kaoxa Bush Camp. With the plan set and fueled up on coffee, Anne-Lieke took us to a rocky area surrounding a campsite at Kaoxa Bush Camp. It was not long before the rocky area blessed us with some geckos, lizards, and skinks, which Luke once again caught with ease.

After a few hours of strenuous searching and catching, we made our way back to the campsite, where we left our vehicles. After some ice-cold refreshments courtesy of the fridge in the ASI vehicle, we made our way back to the reserve and our camp for a late breakfast.

Instead of heading out again later in the afternoon, we watched Johan Marais of ASI work with a Black Mamba that he brought along on the trip. At first, the Black Mamba was very docile and just wanted to get away, but as Johan stopped it from disappearing into the long grass, its defence mechanism of attack set in. The pace at which it moves and strikes is impressive, and it is imperative that you keep your focus when working with this snake, or you might find yourself in some trouble. Luke also staged some realistic photoshoots for some of the reptiles, amphibians, and scorpions we caught during our trip before losing the natural light.

Like every night, we enjoyed a superb dinner, and discussions continued late into the night with the bushveld ambience around a beautiful campfire.

Day 4: Hippo release

The ASI and Opposite Lock teams left for home at around 08:30. Our team, however, decided to stay on for an additional day to witness the release of three hippos (a male, female and calf) into the reserve. With the release and introduction only scheduled for later in the afternoon, we made our way to the adjacent Mapungubwe National Park to pass some time. As we drove on one of the park’s narrower roads, Anton Snr spotted a snake right next to the road, although we initially thought it was just a stick.

After stopping and taking a few photos of the snake and struggling to identify it, we sent the photo to Johan Marais to identify it. Within a few moments, he confirmed it was a Snouted Cobra. This underlined how rarely you will actually spot a snake in the bush – we spent almost three days in the bush actively searching for them without success! According to Johan, the chances of being bitten by one is even less. In South Africa, there are only about 10 deaths a year from snake bites, and most deaths relate to a lack or delay in medical treatment.

After this, we made a quick stop at some lookout points, where I saw the confluence of South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe for the first time before rushing back to Mapesu Private Game Reserve to witness the riveting introduction of the hippos. What an amazing privilege to see these animals up close and personal, being part of their new story… As I told my dad when we got home: “It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it!”

All in all, this trip was very successful as it yielded 26 reptiles, eight amphibians and three scorpions that we either spotted or caught. My personal favourites include the Snouted Cobra spotted in Mapungubwe, Stevenson’s Dwarf Gecko, Bushveld Lizard, Common Giant Plated Lizard, Rainbow Skink, Rock Monitor, Northern Ground Agama; as well as Banded Rubber Frog and Orange Lesser-thick tail scorpion.

This trip once again reminded me just how much there is to learn about reptiles and amphibians and how little the average person actually knows about these often misunderstood and villainised animals. During this trip, my desire to complete the ASI Snake Handling Bootcamp and Advanced Snake Handling and Advanced First Aid for Snakebite courses grew as this is one way to get more informed and be better prepared for the day when you come face to face with these often docile creatures.

 

Spotted and caught on the trip

Reptiles:

  • Peters’ Thread Snake
  • Spotted Bush Snake (skin)
  • Western Yellow-bellied Sand Snake (skin)
  • Snouted Cobra
  • Serrated Hinged Terrapin
  • Leopard Tortoise
  • Nile Crocodile
  • Zimbabwe Flat Gecko
  • Turner’s Gecko
  • Common Tropical House Gecko
  • Common Day Gecko
  • Stevenson’s Dwarf Gecko
  • Speckled Gecko
  • Bushveld Lizard
  • Zimbabwe Flat Lizard
  • Yellow-throated Plated Lizard
  • Eastern Black-lined Plated Lizard
  • Common Giant Plated Lizard
  • Spotted Neck Snake-eyed Skink
  • Rainbow Skink
  • Speckled Sand Skink
  • Striped Skink
  • Damara Variable Skink  
  • Limpopo Dwarf Burrowing Skink
  • Rock Monitor
  • Northern Ground Agama

Amphibians:

  • Southern Foam Nest Frog
  • Eastern Olive Toad
  • Plain Grass Frog
  • Banded Rubber Frog
  • Southern Sand Frog
  • Bubbling Kassina
  • Northern Pygmy-toad
  • Platanna

Scorpions:

  • Orange Lesser-thicktail
  • Transvaal Thicktail Scorpion
  • Giant Rock Scorpion

More about the African Snakebite Institute (ASI)

The African Snakebite Institute (ASI) is the leading training provider of Snake Awareness, First Aid for Snakebite and Venomous Snake Handling courses in Africa. These courses are presented by one of Africa’s leading herpetologists with over 40 years of experience, Johan Marais and Luke Kemp, a zoology graduate that has been working at ASI for the past four years. Besides their public and corporate training courses, ASI provides additional educational information, interesting reads and various tips in the form of newsletters, articles, posters and other documents on their website. They are also the largest distributors of snake handling equipment on the continent and have a free app that includes first aid information, snake identification features, snake removal information and more. 

*For more information on upcoming courses and other information, download the app or visit www.africansnakebiteinstitute.com  or contact admin@asiorg.co.za  

Product enquiries: +27 60 957 2713 | Course enquiries: +27 73 186 9176 | Snakebite emergencies: +27 82 494 2039

More about Opposite Lock

More than four decades ago, Opposite Lock was established in Australia, specialising in four-wheel drive accessories. The local operation will be celebrating their first decade in Africa this year, having launched in South Africa in 2011

The brand is synonymous with quality service and products, offering a range of premium equipment. These include Tough Dog Suspension, Opposite Lock Bullbars, Piak Bullbars, Intervolt DC to DC Chargers, Lightforce Lights and several innovative accessories catering to the off-road performance 4×4 enthusiasts look for when considering vehicle practicality and appearance. Whatever you drive, they have the best premium solution for your off-road requirements
and the team will assist in making the best choice for you and your vehicle. They are also a distributor of premium quality products throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

+27 11 697 0086 / +27 64 525 2338 / info@oppositelock.co.za / https://www.oppositelock.co.za/

Mapesu Private Game Reserve

The Mapesu Private Game Reserve – adjacent to the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Mapungubwe National Park – spread across 7 200 hectares and forms part of the Limpopo Valley Conservancy. At the reserve, their goal is to preserve and restore the environment and re-establish biological diversity while creating an up-close and personal experience that reaches every visitor’s heart and soul.

On the beautiful, diverse plains of the reserve, two of the Big Five (elephant and buffalo) roam along with approximately 40 other animal species. Besides various game viewing options, such as day game drives, night drives and conservation drives, the team offers plenty of other conservation tourism activities including endangered wildlife tracking, walking safaris and expeditions that include tracking collar replacement, animal introductions, game count, and much more.

This reserve offers various accommodation options to suit your pocket and the experience you want. There is the luxury 4-star accommodation and the self-catering chalets at Mopane Bush Lodge that is a dream. They also have stunning luxury tents at Wilderness Tented Camp, and for those adventurers who prefer roughing it, there is an unfenced campsite for camping.

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