Reptile Diversity in African Savannas (RDAS) is an independently run field course that provides university biology students with an opportunity to gain hands-on experience with reptiles and the field techniques associated with herpetology. Through experiential learning and formalised lectures, students learn about the biodiversity, ecology, and evolution of reptiles with an emphasis on savanna ecosystems.
Specifically, we serve South African university students from economically disadvantaged communities and provide them with the opportunity to experience and conduct research on reptiles in world-famous Kruger National Park.
The park hosts a remarkable diversity of reptiles and other fauna, but access and transport costs mean that Kruger remains entirely inaccessible to most South Africans. Many enthusiastic students—the future conservationists, researchers, and educators—fail to experience intact African savannas and their associated biodiversity as a result of South Africa’s history and subsequent economic inequality. For many students, elephants, giraffes, crocodiles, monitor lizards, and indigenous trees are completely foreign!
We seek applications from biology undergraduates enrolled at the University of the Western Cape and the University of Mpumalanga. Students are selected based on their desire to learn more about reptiles and biology. Preference is given to students who want to learn about reptiles but have had few opportunities to do so and to students who have little to no experience in protected ecosystems.
This multi-week course is led by a collaborative team of researchers and offers students a rigorous introduction to field research, herpetology, and savanna ecology. During the course, students attend lectures on reptile biodiversity, ecology, and physiology, but also savanna ecology and conservation biology. Hands-on activities teach students the necessary techniques for surveying and identifying reptiles. In doing so, students get the opportunity to actively participate in research projects as they gather information on the more than 120 species of reptiles that occur in the park—data critical for conservation and preservation of healthy reptile communities.
Identify the reptiles of Kruger National Park
Understand the natural history and ecology of herpetofauna in the Kruger National Park
Describe the importance of reptiles in an ecosystem
Effectively utilize field guides and books, and comprehend scientific literature on African reptiles
Design, implement, and discuss the findings of field-based reptile ecology projects and field surveys
Maintain a detailed field journal of notes and observations
The idea for the course was developed by Bryan and Robin Maritz in early 2017. After many hours of planning and help from Donovan Tye (OTS) and Karen Vickers (Nsasani), our course ran for the first time in December 2017. It was a great success! Read more about it here...
We continue to run our course on a biannual basis in the Kruger National Park while being based at the SSLI centre in Skukuza.
Dr Bryan Maritz
Senior Lecturer at the University of the Western Cape. His lab in the Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology focuses on the functional role of snakes within African ecosystems, including patterns of predator-prey dynamics, competition, resource utilisation, and community functional traits.
Dr Robin Maritz
Research fellow at the University of the Western Cape. She has taught field courses in several locations, including the Galapagos Islands and Namaqualand, South Africa. Her research focuses on the feeding ecology of snakes in southern Africa.
Mr Donovan Tye
field coordinator, instructor
Research manager for the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) based in the Kruger National Park. Don has spent several years teaching for the OTS where he has taught ecology. His research interests are based in the field of savanna ecology with a specific interest in understanding the determinants of species and trait assemblages in disturbance-prone ecosystems.
Prof Graham Alexander
Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand. His research laboratory in the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences focuses on ecology, physiology, biogeography and conservation of reptiles. He has a particular interest in elucidating causality of range limitation in reptiles and using this information for conservation purposes.