Into Africa: The Southern Namib Desert of Namibia
Keep up to date with Geography Department Chair Jill Heaton's travels to study lizards, tortoises and snakes of Namibia, Africa.
Jill Here! The time is going way too fast. After spending a week in the Kunene and the northern Namib Desert we headed south to explore the southern reaches of the Namib. We met up with my longtime friend and colleague Professor Jim Juvik (Geography, University of Hawaii at Hilo and Senior Conservation Scientist for The Turtle Conservancy) to hunt for the elusive and rarely seen Nama Padloper (Chersobius solus). The Nama Padloper is listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Endangered by Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, and the Turtle Conservation Coalition list it as one of the world's 25 most endangered turtles. I admit...I seriously doubted our chances of seeing this species, but I was game to try. Who doesn't want to go searching for one of the world's rarest, most cryptic and elusive endangered species?!?!
I promise to provide the big reveal before this blog is over, but it would be remiss if I didn't talk about all of the other amazing reptiles we saw. To start with saw three of our girdled lizard study species while on this trip, including one species so unstudied by science that it is known from only a handful of locations.
Amazingly, we saw three different adders - the Horned Adder, the Many Horned Adder, and the Desert Mountain Adder. Yes, these snakes are venomous. I was walking through a dry wash when I came upon the Horned Adder sunning itself, Jon found the Many Horned Adder in a rock crevice while searching for lizards, and Anette was about to look under a rock for a Nama Padloper when the Desert Mountain Adder popped its head out.
Namibia is home to an amazing diversity of geckos (nearly 60 species in total with half of those endemic). Geckos are Jon's real passion, and the trip south did not disappoint. The taxonomy of many of the geckos in Namibia remains unresolved at best, confusing a worst, and identifying individual species can be time-consuming, in some cases very close examination of toes pads, or even in some cases requiring DNA analysis.
The big reveal...yes, in the end we found not just one, not just two, not even three or four, but amazingly five Nama Padlopers. As these guys are very small (a full grown adult is just 100-150mm or 4-6"), very flat (40-60mm or 1.5-2.3" high), very cryptic (the same color as their background), live under rocks, and like all tortoises they spend most of their time inactive, we spent a lot of time looking under and between rocks. Since these guys are endemic to just Namibia, restricted to a very small known geographic distribution, and endangered you will probably notice that we did not share our InReach Garmin track on the web so as not to reveal where we located them.
Jon found the first Nama Padloper and the celebrations began. Dr. Juvik could not have been happier. It was the first one he had seen in the wild since 2006...and he has been searching for many of those years in between.
Thanks for reading! Keep an eye out for future posts as the research continues!