South Africa- Sept. 2013...cobras and other cool critters...

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Rothdigga
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South Africa- Sept. 2013...cobras and other cool critters...

Post by Rothdigga » October 9th, 2013, 10:58 am

So each of the past 3 years I've judged and organized a skateboard contest in Kimberley, South Africa. The previous 2 years I stayed after the event and lurked around the Kalahari region of the Northern Cape. This year, upon some solid advice from the good folks on the South African herp forum, I decided to go to the KwaZulu-Natal region north of Durban for 3-4 days before heading over to Kimberley to run the contest.
After flying LAX-ATL-JNB (Johannesburg) for a solid 25+ hours, I took the short flight to Durban and got in at 10pm. Got my rental car and stayed close to the airport while trying to adjust to driving on the left side of the road after such a long trip.
Before my trip, like I said earlier, I linked up with a couple of folks on the South African Herp forum and one of them was keen to go and join me on my trip. It was a good idea as exploring and road cruising alone at night in South Africa on unfamiliar roads wasn't really the safest thing to do.
We were going to be staying at the Umkhumbi Lodge http://umkhumbilodge.co.za/ for 3 nights as our base.
On our way from Durban to the lodge we went to the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve. This is the oldest reserve in South Africa and is credited with being the area responsible for repopulating the world with white rhinos. An interesting history and area for sure.
We left the hotel very early...3:30am (so I paid for a solid 4 hours of sleep at the hotel, ha). But the lack of sleep was worth it to get to the gate which opened at 6am.
Starting this mostly with all the birds and mammals seen as herps came later....

Entrance gate at 6am. My sweet Hyundai is on the left...
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entrance to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi reserve by jrothdog, on Flickr

Cape Buffalo with Red-Oxpecker coming in for some grub
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Water Buffalo with Red-billed Oxpecker at Hluhluwe-imfolozi Reserve by jrothdog, on Flickr

Got really close up, good views of elephants for the first time in my life. So amazing.
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African Elephant at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Reserve by jrothdog, on Flickr

A nest of White-backed Vultures. You can see the juvenile behind them
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African White-Backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) by jrothdog, on Flickr

Female Impala with another Red-Billed Oxpecker
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Female Impala and Red-billed Oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus) by jrothdog, on Flickr

Giraffes are abundant and very, very close to the road.
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Giraffe at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi reserve by jrothdog, on Flickr

The scenery is nice there, here's what most of the habitat looked like. There's a few baboon's running in the top right as well.
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Giraffe at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi reserve by jrothdog, on Flickr

Purple-crested Lourie
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Purple-crested Lourie (Tauraco porphyreolophus) by jrothdog, on Flickr

Nice to see tons and tons of rhino as well.
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White Rhino at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Reserve by jrothdog, on Flickr

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White Rhino at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Reserve by jrothdog, on Flickr

The park's east entrance is just 30 minutes from the lodge, so we got there about 3pm or so.
It should be noted that the owner of the lodge, Anton, is awesome. He's very into herping, has a pretty extensive collection of herps as well as being the go-to guy in all of that area for removal of snakes in peoples houses and property. He does this service for free and has really saved a ton of snakes from being killed.
Prior to us showing up, he found and held onto a few cobras and puff adders in case we struck out while there...so that I would have something to shoot photos of. So while these weren't my finds, they're about as close as I got to actual wild cobras.
The most common snake found at Umkhumbi is the Forest Cobra...
Nick drags out the Forest Cobra for us to shoot photos of
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Forest Cobra (Naja melanoleuca) by jrothdog, on Flickr

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Forest Cobra (Naja melanoleuca) by jrothdog, on Flickr

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Forest Cobra (Naja melanoleuca) by jrothdog, on Flickr
A couple of Puff Adders (we found 3 DOR's but no live ones)
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Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) by jrothdog, on Flickr

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Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) by jrothdog, on Flickr

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Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) by jrothdog, on Flickr
They also had a Snouted Cobra that they saved from a neighbor's dog. Amazingly, the cobra lost the fight and had 1-2 puncture wounds in it, so it was healing up and we let it stay in the bin.
But they did have an also common to the area Mozambique Spitting Cobra (locally known as M'Fezi).
These guys are pissed off right out of the gate.

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Mozambique Spitting Cobra (Naja mossambica) by jrothdog, on Flickr

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Mozambique Spitting Cobra (Naja mossambica) by jrothdog, on Flickr

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Mozambique Spitting Cobra (Naja mossambica) by jrothdog, on Flickr

I wore some glasses to protect from getting sprayed by this guy (with 1 lens so I could still shoot easily). They spit constantly, I was really surprised at how often they just go spraying everything in sight.
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Mozambique Spitting Cobra (Naja mossambica) by jrothdog, on Flickr

After that excitement, we went road cruising. The first night was very cold and we actually didn't see any herps at all besides one toad.
But...we did road cruise this Bush Baby after seeing the eye shine
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Bushbaby (Galago senegalensis) by jrothdog, on Flickr
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Bushbaby (Galago senegalensis) by jrothdog, on Flickr

This Red Toad was the only thing we cruised that first night.
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Red Toad (Schismaderma carens) by jrothdog, on Flickr

The next day, we went to the town of St. Lucia. This area is decent habitat for Gaboon Adders so we did a touristy style boat ride around the estuary and hiked as well, before staying after dark for road cruising that area.
The estuary is loaded up with hippos, nile crocs and all types of birds...

Basking Nile Croc
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Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) by jrothdog, on Flickr

This croc was tagged using a very old method they said. They haven't used these tags in 40+ years down there. Pretty brutal looking and archaic tagging.
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Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) by jrothdog, on Flickr

African Fish Eagle
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African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer) by jrothdog, on Flickr

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St. Lucia Hippos by jrothdog, on Flickr

The area was very lush, we hiked for about 3 hours or so without finding any herps...bummer. I swear we probably walked past 10 Gaboon's though, but you would never know because of their camo...
This guy fronted me though while walking
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Warthog near St. Lucia South Africa by jrothdog, on Flickr
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Zebra near St. Lucia South Africa by jrothdog, on Flickr

Nick was trying to see if there were any pythons down this hole. Good luck with that my man, I'll be up here shooting photos
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Nick exploring possible rock python den by jrothdog, on Flickr

The best thing about staying at Umkhumbi Lodge, is that the owner planned out every night of road cruising trying to put us in the best spots to find things. He was on vacation with his family while we were there though so he missed out joining us (which I could tell he was bummed on since he texted every 10 minutes for updates on what we found).
It was much warmer on our 2nd night of road cruising. As usual, there was a period of peak activity for about 1 hour or so. Unfortunately for us it occurred while we were on the busiest road in the area trying to get to another road. So in a span of about 15 minutes, we saw 4-5 snakes and only managed to scoop up 2 to shoot photos of. Drivers in SA are notoriously sketchy, not to mention in busy areas near townships, there's a lot of creepers walking around you just don't know what's going to happen.
First snake of the night was this DOR (hit by the car in front of me, ahhhhh)
Rhombic Night Adder
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DOR Rhombic Night Adder (Causus rhombeatus) by jrothdog, on Flickr

Guttoral Toad
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Guttural Toad (Amietophrynus gutturalis) by jrothdog, on Flickr
Eastern Olive Toad
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Eastern Olive Toad (Amietophrynus garmani) by jrothdog, on Flickr
I found this Rhombic Egg Eater on our exit off the highway. Small juvenile
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Rhombic Egg Eater (Dasypeltis scabra) by jrothdog, on Flickr

This is a Herald or White-Lipped Snake
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Herald Snake (Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia) by jrothdog, on Flickr
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Herald Snake (Crotaphopeltis hotamboeia) by jrothdog, on Flickr

We found this DOR Vine Snake while out road cruising a road near the lodge. These are unlike the Vine Snakes here in the Americas. They have a hemotoxic venom and it's only treated by blood transfusions. Best not to get bit by one of these I'm assuming.
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DOR Vine Snake (Thelotornis capensis) by jrothdog, on Flickr

Along the drive that night we stopped by a large water tank listening to frogs but couldn't find any. Up ahead on the dirt road we saw an outline of an animal we couldn't make out. As we drove further we realized it was an Eagle Owl that had just snatched up a snake off the road and flew up in a tree above us. Nick was so bummed. I would have loved to see what kind of snake it was, but I'm sure the owl needed it worse than we did.

Dung beetle doing what dung beetles do
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Dung Beetle by jrothdog, on Flickr

So we did find some live snakes that night, which was awesome.
The next day we visited a neighbor's farm who has a resident Black Mamba as well as a very large 18ft resident Rock Python.
Along the drive there Nick yelled STOP! and proceeded to jump out of the car before I had actually stopped, bashing himself with the door upon exit...but he managed to tree this large Rock Monitor. I was stoked as I had only found a DOR in previous trips
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Rock Monitor (Chamaeleo dilepis) by jrothdog, on Flickr

At the farm, the only evidence of our targets were their sheds...
Mamba shed
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Black Mamba shed by jrothdog, on Flickr
Large Rock Python shed
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Lacey with Rock Python shed by jrothdog, on Flickr

They have awesome rides there in SA
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Sick South African ride by jrothdog, on Flickr

Bird Eggs found while hiking
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Bird eggs found on hike by jrothdog, on Flickr

This is the den the python lives in. Nick tempting fate to see what he can find. Suicide mission...
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Nick exploring a Rock Python den by jrothdog, on Flickr

Back at the Lodge we managed to find a Flap Necked Chameleon who likes to hang out sometimes. It's absolutely insane how hard it is to find these during the daylight. Even knowing which tree/bush they're in, you can't see them right in front of you.
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Flap-necked Chameleon (Chamaeleo dilepis) by jrothdog, on Flickr

This Rock Monitor lives in the awning above the patio and doesn't come out much.
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Rock Monitor (Chamaeleo dilepis) by jrothdog, on Flickr

Like I mentioned earlier, the owner has a pretty extensive collection of snakes. Somewhere around 50-60 it seems. Some are just there for rehab (like the Snouted Cobra getting well from the dog bite) and some are just straight pets. He also has done some interesting research on releasing snakes outside of where you find them. He radio tagged a few species of cobras, black mambas and a few others and released them far away from where they were found (some from Durban, 3 hours away). Unlike rattlesnakes here which are known to really suffer from release barely 1 mile from their range, these SA species survived totally fine. They checked up on their releases for up to a year and while some met predatory deaths from birds, others kept on fine.

Here's his garage and some setups. Those plywood areas in the back are where his Gaboon Adders and Rhino Vipers are kept.
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Anton's snake collection by jrothdog, on Flickr

Gaboon's in their pen...he has 5 total I believe
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Gaboon Adders (Bitis gabonica) by jrothdog, on Flickr

Rhino Viper
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Rhino Viper (Bitis nasicornis) by jrothdog, on Flickr

We took one of the Gaboon's out for a spin to shoot photos of. You can clearly see how impossible it is to find them when they're not on the move or on the road. The matching of the colors with the leaves (the lodge is in their habitat) is perfect.
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Gaboon Adder (Bitis gabonica) by jrothdog, on Flickr
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Gaboon Adder (Bitis gabonica) by jrothdog, on Flickr

So we didn't get to see a wild one, but I was stoked to see them up close.
Sunset from the deck of the lodge
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Umkhumbi Sunset by jrothdog, on Flickr

Our last night of road cruising was decent as well. We went pretty far, a solid 6 total hours of cruising and I was beat. I had to relinquish driving for the last 1 hour due to sleepy eyes, which pretty much never happens to me.
Leaving the lodge we saw this hand sized moth
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Moth ssp? by jrothdog, on Flickr
We found 2 DOR juvie Puff Adders but they were mangled so I didn't bother shooting them.

We found another Herald snake as well and released it without photos since I got some already.
Another Rhombic Egg Eater also...
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Rhombic Egg Eater (Dasypeltis scabra) by jrothdog, on Flickr
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Rhombic Egg Eater (Dasypeltis scabra) by jrothdog, on Flickr

This Flap Necked Chameleon was a little far into the bushes for me to get a good photo
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Flap-necked Chameleon (Chamaeleo dilepis) by jrothdog, on Flickr
Here's the one at the lodge at night though up close
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Flap-necked Chameleon (Chamaeleo dilepis) by jrothdog, on Flickr

This was the first non-DOR Brown House Snake we found. They really remind me of Rosy Boas...
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Brown House Snake (Lamprophis fuliginosus) by jrothdog, on Flickr
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Brown House Snake (Lamprophis fuliginosus) by jrothdog, on Flickr

This frog hangs out in the bathrooms and actually inside the toilets at the lodge. Weird.
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Greater Leaf-folding Frog (Afrixalus fornasinii) by jrothdog, on Flickr

My parting gift the morning I was leaving to go back to Durban to fly out and do the skate contest literally fell out of the sky. I was taking a shower and this Velvet Gecko fell onto my head and into the shower. I quickly picked it up, got dressed with 1 hand and went out to shoot photos of it. They're large geckos, similar to Turnip Tailed ones you find in Central America.
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Wahlberg's Velvet Gecko (Homopholis walbergii) by jrothdog, on Flickr
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Wahlberg's Velvet Gecko (Homopholis walbergii) by jrothdog, on Flickr

So I was able to pack in a lot of stuff in the 3 full days I was there. Not a lot of sleep as was expected. We've got 2 more years on the contract for the contest, so if all goes as planned again I'm going to go back here and try for some of the things I missed this time.

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Mike VanValen
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Re: South Africa- Sept. 2013...cobras and other cool critter

Post by Mike VanValen » October 9th, 2013, 12:40 pm

Wow, beautiful post. I can't get enough of Africa reports! I really like the monitor peeking out of the awning.

qaz
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Re: South Africa- Sept. 2013...cobras and other cool critter

Post by qaz » October 9th, 2013, 3:08 pm

The shots of the Mozambique Spitting Cobra are really cool, especially the action one. And the Velvet Gecko's pattern is amazing. Great post!

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dery
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Re: South Africa- Sept. 2013...cobras and other cool critter

Post by dery » October 9th, 2013, 4:33 pm

Great post. Nice tan on the nile croc.

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Kevin Messenger
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Re: South Africa- Sept. 2013...cobras and other cool critter

Post by Kevin Messenger » October 9th, 2013, 5:41 pm

so awesome!! I head to SA in a couple of days (just north of Swaziland) - will be my first time to the continent. I cannot wait. Your pictures just make it even harder

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MattSullivan
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Re: South Africa- Sept. 2013...cobras and other cool critter

Post by MattSullivan » October 9th, 2013, 7:33 pm

that shot of the cobra spitting is awesome. and i'd LOVE to see a gaboon in the wild

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Rothdigga
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Re: South Africa- Sept. 2013...cobras and other cool critter

Post by Rothdigga » October 9th, 2013, 8:38 pm

Kevin Messenger wrote:so awesome!! I head to SA in a couple of days (just north of Swaziland) - will be my first time to the continent. I cannot wait. Your pictures just make it even harder
Thanks for checking it out everyone.
Kevin...you're stoked. Have a good time. I was actually told Swaziland was a great place to herp as well, in case you can get away. Hopefully you'll find some great stuff as well. Have fun.

DanW
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Re: South Africa- Sept. 2013...cobras and other cool critter

Post by DanW » October 11th, 2013, 6:23 pm

Was your boat driver a zulu named Jonathan when you saw the nile?
That's very likely one of my friends marked crocs.

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Rothdigga
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Re: South Africa- Sept. 2013...cobras and other cool critter

Post by Rothdigga » October 11th, 2013, 10:15 pm

DanW wrote:Was your boat driver a zulu named Jonathan when you saw the nile?
That's very likely one of my friends marked crocs.
Nah, our driver was a white dude on a regular old tourist boat. But they did say that croc was the last one with those old style tags on it. If you're friend was doing research a long time ago it fully could be.

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moloch
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Re: South Africa- Sept. 2013...cobras and other cool critter

Post by moloch » October 13th, 2013, 4:19 am

Excellent report with great photos. It is nice to see shots from South Africa.

Regards,
David

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