Thursday, 11 January 2018

Swakopmund - The Little Five

Most people who have travelled to Africa on safari have heard of the 'big five' - that of the elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and buffalo.  On Monday I found out there was a 'little five' - namely a dancing white lady spider, web-footed gecko, sandfish skink (legless lizard), Namaqua chameleon and the sidewinder snake.  I joined a Living Deserts tour to find out.
20180108 Tommys tour phots 11.41.25
20180108 Living Desert
Tommy is an enthusiastic, to put it mildly, desert naturalist who loves nothing more than leaping out of his Land Rover to run headlong into the sand pursuing a teeny tiny animal.
20180108 Dunes and sea 10.57.38
20180108 Tommys tour phots 11.25.58
Tommy was often seen  running up a dune and digging madly to find his quarry, a gecko, lizard or similar.  Hilarious.  But uber knowledgeable and professional.
20180108 Dunes
I had joined a group consisting 2 French, 2 Americans, 2 South Africans and 5 Romanians.  After a while we answered to Tommy's calls of 'French man', 'English lady', 'American man' etc.

Tommy first unearthed a skink, a tiny silver worm like creature which he proceeded to put in his mouth.  It's OK, he popped it out quite quickly and let it slither away, but he knew his stuff and what was safe to touch, or not.

I have no idea how Tommy or his colleague did it.  OK, they check tracks, such as for the side winder snake, but they'd spot these wee creatures from metres away and chase them down.

This was the first lizard we found.
20180108 Lizard 07.51.03
Tommy showed us the difference between that an a gecko. For example, lizards have toes whereas geckos have webbed feet. Lizards also have eyelids.
20180108 Lizard 07.51.30
We learned to sex a lizard too. This one is male.
20180108 Lizard 08.06.06
This one had a good grip once it bit.
20180108 Lizard 08.07.56
We took turns to be bitten.
20180108 Lizard 07.56.07
Tommy and the Romanian children then let it go.
20180108 Lizard 08.10.44
We found another one although I've named the photo as a gecko?  I think it's actually a lizard.
20180108 Gecko   09.40.14
A Namibian sand gecko. Far more bobbly skin than the dry skin of a lizard.
20180108 Namib Sand Gecko 08.20.54
20180108 Namib Sand Gecko 08.20.13
A side winder snake. A recall seeing one of these at Sossusvlei.  Tommy has chipped a lot of these snakes as part of conservation work.
20180108 Sidewinder snake 07.19.34
We look like we're having a seance! But it's the side winder snake party.
20180108 Sidewinder snake 07.16.47
Tommy then found a horned adder which was treated with a lot of respect.
20180108 Horned adder 09.07.26
20180108 Horned adder 09.08.03
20180108 Horned adder 09.09.57
A tractrac.
20180108 Tractrac Chat Bird   06.59.55
Tommy enticed them onto our hands using maggots.
20180108 Tractrac Chat Bird   10.19.05
Across the desert is the disused Swakopmund to Walvis Bay railway from the 19th Century. It was initially built in the 1890s but kept getting buried by the sand. It think it was finally abandoned only in the 1980s.
20180108 Railway 09.21.22
20180108 Railway 09.24.08
And it was on a piece of this disused railway that we found our Namaqua chameleon. They have found this one in the same spot for the last 4 days.
20180108 Namaqua Cameleon  09.25.18
It was amazingly quick to change colour. As soon as it stepped off the concrete onto the sand it lightened to green.
20180108 Namaqua Cameleon  09.27.23
Tommy fed it a beetle which it expertly reeled in with its long tongue. Its tongue is longer than its body length.
20180108 Namaqua Cameleon  09.29.24
Tommy's final party trick was to show us how much iron made up the sand. It was a mere 52 deg C (how he didn't wear shoes was beyond us). It was amazing to see how much ferrous material there was.
20180108 Iron
It was a great morning out - a lot of fun.
20180108 Tommys tour phots 11.22.18

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