First Days in Kruger
Students and instructors have made it to Skukuza and the Reptile Diversity in African Savannas field course is off to a great start.
The course is officially underway! Five undergraduates from the University of Mpumalanga, four post-graduate students from the University of the Western Cape, one post-graduate student from the University of Venda have arrived and are staying at the Skukuza camp.
The first day was filled with lots of new experiences and sightings. This was the first time in the park for several of the students and their first time experiences of a game drive. Nothing quite compares to the first time one sees megafauna and the first elephant sighting made a lasting impression. Chatter and laughter turned to perfect silence as soon as the big bull was spotted. The male elephant chomped away on some plant material, flapped its massive ears, and carried about its business as if we weren't there. The students gaze was fixated on the gigantic creature. When the sighting ended and we continued on our journey, a cacophony arose from the vehicle. Students were completely awestruck by the impressive size and shape of the beast.
Today, the students attended lectures after
returning from a morning game drive.
Bryan guided the students through the nature of surveying reptiles including a lesson on trapping. Robin provided a lesson on being a biological observer and led the students through the process of keeping a field journal. After the classes, the students searched around the science center for an organism to observe, describe, and sketch. The afternoon brought an exciting hands-on practical where students learned how to identify a reptile that they have never encountered. Both groups of students successfully identified the defining characteristics of Trachylepis margaritifer (an ornately coloured skink) and Afrotyphlops schlegelii (a chequered-patterned blind snake).
As a final task, the students worked together to come up with an identification for an unidentified reptile in a jar. We didn't immediately allow them to take the animal out of its container until they provided strong evidence that it wasn't something venomous. Ultimately, the students were able to identify the harmless snake as a Prosymna stuhlmannii (an East African shovelsnout thought to feed almost exclusively on reptile eggs).
We enjoyed a sunset overlooking the savanna from the top of Stevenson-Hamilton Memorial
surrounded by several huge Matobosauraus validus lizards. Donovan led an interesting discussion on savanna systems. The students will receive a full lecture on savanna ecology tomorrow.
Before retiring for the night, we all wrote about are experiences of the day in our field journals and discussed what species we have seen so far. Our group reptile species list is growing nicely and includes: Trachylepis margaritifer, T. varia, T. striata, Hemidactylus mabouia, Lygodactylus capensis, Chondrodactylus turneri, Stigmochelys pardalis, Pelusios sinuatus, Acanthocerus atricollis, Broadleysaurus major, Matobosaurus validus, Crocodylus niloticus, Varanus niloticus, Afrotyphlops schlegelii, Causus defilippii, and Prosymna stuhlmannii.
Tomorrow, we will search for reptiles in the bush on foot accompanied by two game guards. It is certain to be an exhilarating experience for all!