Reptiles of Makhanda

There is a large variety of snakes and other reptiles in Makhanda. This is because of the variety of biomes that are mentioned in my earlier post. These biomes create a fantastic diversity of habitats for reptiles to take refuge in, especially snakes, snakes flourish in the different living habitats in and around Makhanda.

As part of his efforts to save snakes, Chad Keates takes call-outs to remove snakes from homes and gardens. The call outs, along with his studies in herpetology have provided Chad with unique insight into the snakes and reptile’s in and around Makhanda and the threats they face.

The most common snakes in Makhanda are Puffadders, Boomslangs, Red-Lipped Heralds and Night Adders. These large venomous snakes are common in Makhanda because humans have created the perfect living conditions for these species to flourish. The Boomslang lives near people because the big, tall trees around Makhanda are an ideal habitat where they are safe from humans but close to birds which make up part of their diet. The biggest, tallest trees are invasive species planted by humans near their homes. The primary prey of Red-Lipped Heralds, Night Adders and Rinkhals is toads, and toads are attracted to the pools of water that humans have in their gardens which bring the snakes into people’s gardens and homes.

“Humans have created the perfect living conditions for these species to flourish”

Chad Keates

These are the well documented snakes in the area, but there are three reptiles in the area whose sightings are few and far between. One is the yellow-bellied House Snake which is endemic to only a few pockets around the country and one of which is in the Makhanda area. Along with Black-Headed Centipede Eaters, which mainly feed on centipedes, and the dusky-bellied water snake, which loves fish, these three snake species are few in number. Beyond these snakes there is also the tiny, endemic Essex’s Dwarf-Leaf Toed Gecko.

There are threats to reptiles and especially snakes in and around Makhanda. The most worrying of these threats are those created by humans, such as the extensive planting of invasive trees which over-shadow large area’s of reptiles habitats, make those area’s unsuitable for cold-blooded snakes.

The Albany and Berg Adders use to be very common in the area but can no longer be found and it is believed this is because of the planting of invasive trees on Mountain Drive. What is especially depressing about the disappearance of the Albany Adder from the region is that it is one of the rarest snakes on Earth! The Albany Adder is now restricted to a small area outside of Port Elizabeth, while the Berg Adder is more widespread across other localities.

Human’s have also directly contributed to the disappearance of Rock Python, which use to be found near the Fish River, but because of extensive hunting and poaching are no longer found in the area.

Steps have been taken to remove the invasive trees, but the snake populations were already so damaged that Keates believes there is very little chance of them coming back. But there is always hope that with the removal of the trees, the snakes may return to their original habitats.

Chad Keates is currently completing his Doctorate in Zoology, specializing in herpetology at Rhodes University.

Chad Keates has a website which is aimed at helping educate people about reptiles and especially snakes in and around Makhanda, you can find it here or you can visit his Facebook page for more information about his nature walks and talks.

Keates is not the only person who is trying to help snakes and other reptiles in the Makhanda area. For the last 50 years Basil Mills has been travelling to rural schools all around the Eastern Cape to help educate children about snakes, tortoises and other reptiles. He believes that these efforts help break down long standing misconceptions about these reptiles and will encourage the children save reptiles, instead of killing them.

Chad Keates, Basil Mills and others are working hard to help educate the Makhanda population about the value of reptiles and remove them from the hostile environments of people’s homes. These actions allow the reptile population in the area to remain strong for the sake of keeping the ecosystems in balance.

I have never been a huge fan of snakes, but in learning about them and what makes them so important to our environment I have gained a newfound respect for the reptiles, that has encouraged me to actively push for their conservation. To do this it is important to understand not only their habitats, but knowing which snakes and other reptiles are in the area. When people can identify the snakes and reptiles they encounter then they can act accordingly to protect themselves as well as the reptiles. There are a number of people in Makhanda who handle snakes, you can find a list of them and their contact details here.

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