It’s been just over two years since I was last in the Karoo. Between changing jobs, visiting Namibia late last year and the previous year, not to mention visiting West Coast as often in the last two years. Needless to say It’s been neglected in my travels the last few years.

With Friday being a public holiday and the following Tuesday I did what any self-respecting employee would do – take off the Monday of course.

I left work late on Thursday afternoon and heading to Clarens to spend the night, a quick 400km doesn’t seem like much anymore. I arrived straight to my accommodation which was quaint and really reasonably priced for the little Eastern Free State town. It was just a quick stop over and  I left the following morning at 03:45am on route to Oudtshoorn – via Fiksburg, Colesberg,
Graaf Reinet, Aberdeen, Willowmore and finally Oudtshoorn.

It had been quite an eventual drive, coming off the back farm roads of the Eastern Free State, I saw three freshly knocked down Aardwolves, 7 shrub hares, and a DOR brown house snake. Between Aberdeen and Willowmore I spotted a small rock shaped object in the road from at least 100m or so I sped up expecting a sub adult Leopard Tortoise but I was to be pleasantly surprised! A much more welcome site was a Common Tent Tortoise this was only the second specimen I’ve seen the other 3 years prior whilst on a similar road trip near Prince Albert in the Western Cape.

A better view of the sparse vegetation and habitat of these iconic little tortoises. Unfortunately highly prized in the pet trade many of these are illegally collected for export. Although far more are killed on the roads whilst moving from increasing fragmenting habitat from farming and other activities that threaten much of the Karoo.

After a quick photograph session, I use “quick” subjectively as once these little tortoises go back in their shell they can take sometime before they slowly peak out the front and then there is no stopping them! They just want to head for the hills.

I reached Oudtshoorn just before 14:30 pm it had been a long day to say the least, I met up with good friend Rian Stander who I’ve spent a lot of time searching for reptiles in and around the Karoo and Garden Route over the last 5 or so years so it was good to be back – although not much changes in the Karoo! We caught exchanged stories, grabbed some lunch and began to plan our itinerary for the next few days.

Later that evening we heading out towards Calitszdorp to search for LIttle Karoo Dwarf Chameleon – Bardypodion gutturale Rian had seen a single specimen in this Nature Reserve some years prior but had not been back since. We searched for around an hour but came out empty handed. We decided to call it a night and headed back to Oudtshoorn had the mandatory cup or tea and decided I should catch up on some sleep.

The following morning we headed 65km towards the Coast to George where we were to meet up with the local custodian for the Garden Route Botanical Gardens Colin Ralston and have a look at some of the Knysna Dwarf Chameleons that the area is well known for.

We arrived at the gardens at around 10 am it was cold, over the coast and certainly not the weather you’d want when looking for chameleons but this wasn’t our first rodeo.

It took around 20 mins but I soon spotted a young juvenile sitting quite well camouflaged amongst some orange flowers on the side of the footpath.


Bradypodion damarnum

Juvenile Knysna dwarf chameleon from George, Western Cape. Photo Rian Stander.

This specimen was just the catalyst for the morning as once we had our eyes in we spotted another 6 or so in quick succession. Once you start seeing them they almost pop up everywhere and hard not to spot them.

Bradypodion damarnum

Knysna dwarf chameleon from George, Western Cape. Note the long tail a distinctive trait with these forest species. Photo Rian Stander.

After a lengthy photographing session we heading 120km or so South to Gouritsmond a small coastal area scattered with holiday homes and farms right up against the coast. Before long we had seen a number of Angulate Tortoises which we frequently stopped to move them off the road.

We searched around looking for reptiles amongst the rocky outcrops, fynbos and driftwood patches washed up above the tide line. In the first 30 mins we must have seen in excess of a dozen Angulate Tortoises although common something I always enjoy seeing and photographing.

Chersina angulata - Angulate Tortoise

A much older adult Chersina angulata – Angulate Tortoise with a notably yellow and weather carapace.

We continued further along the coast lined and I found a number of Cordylus cordylus – Cape Girdled Lizards under virtually every rock, copious amounts of Occelated Geckos and finally a minute Delandes Beaked Blind Snake.

Pachydactylus geitje

As usual, we spent far too much time photographing specimens and we still needed to head back to George, check into our hotel and still meet Colin at the gardens before 18:30 pm.

We made it to George, checked into the hotel – it was small a little kitch bit all we really needed and was a welcome sight after a long day in the sun and wind at the coast. When we arrived at the gardens we met with Colin exchanged greetings and began our search around the gardens. Having been involved with the gardens for the last ten years or so Colin’s wealth of knowledge on the flora and fauna were impressive. From the various beetles, fungi and indigenous plants it was quite a refreshing experience to learn a bit more about things I’ve had little exposure to previously.

After a good two hour and seeing in excess of 25+ individuals we set off again but not before we grabbed a pizza at the local take away in town – limited by choices but even a bad pizza in the cold was welcome and to be honest, it wasn’t half bad!

We left George heading out to the pass to try and see if we couldn’t find a small Dwarf Chameleon that I had found a few years prior which appears to be one of the undescribed or ecomorphs.

The undescribed species which I found back in 2012.

Unfortunately, at this time of year it was exceptionally cold and windy up the pass we didn’t last long in the cold and unfortunately left defeated without any sign of the chameleon – this was Rian’s 5th attempt to see them but dipped again.

After several cups of tea and lengthy breakfast at the hotel, we made a quick stop back at the gardens. Trying to find a few more adult chameleons as I was really hoping to see the exquisite turquoise and orange specimens the area is known for. We found a few of the animals from the evening before still in their perching positions but still dark and not quite having their morning make up done.

We turned a corner and I spotted a Cape Dwarf Gecko on a sign and walked past this exquisite Bradypodion damaranum – Knysna Dwarf Chameleon.

Photographing a chameleon alongside Colin Ralston. Photo Rian Stander.

After a quick coffee and catch up with Colin Rian and I headed back to Oudtshoorn and over the Swartberg Pass, we searched around a little for reptiles, it was cold and windy and the spot we stopped at had seen some herping prior so the habitat was quite disturbed. I did manage to find some Cordylus cordylus, Hemicordylus capensis and Trachylepis capensis.

Myself and Rian at an old padstal outside Oudtshoorn.

We settled into our accommodation by late afternoon there was a serious chill in the air and the temperatures were down to the low teens. We went out that evening but dipped and found no reptiles.

We left Prince Albert early around 5 am and heading back to Oudtshoorn where I grabbed the remainder of my things dropped off Rian and started to make my way back to Clarens, via Graaf Reniet, Colesberg, Bloemfontein where I met with the tortoise man Booysen Zhao and exchanged some samples I had collected for him.

A large Cape Cobra just outside of Colesberg.

Finally making it back to Clarens where I checked into the sam accommodation from Thursday night. I finally had a chance to transfer some images, clear camera gear and get organized for the final leg back from Clarens to Durban.

In 5 days I clocked up 3 561 km not too bad for a quick trip!

by Tyrone Ping

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