Snailing in Port Elizabeth, Addo and closer to home ….

A recent field trip with colleagues from the Natal Museum (Pietermaritzburg) to areas west and inland of PE, the Addo Elephant National Park (including Zuurberg and Woody Cape), Waters Meeting Nature Reserve (Bathurst) and Kap River (a tributary of the Fish River) revealed some exciting finds.

Research continues on the revision of the snail genus Chondrocyclus (Chondro’s) with an emphasis now being placed on collecting specimens from different populations and Prof. Dai Herbert of the Natal Museum was particularly interested in finding more specimens of a new species of Nata. So with digging spades, head-lamps (for the dark forest floors) and note books the group headed out. Included in the group was Linda Davis, Prof. Herbert’s assistant. Snail collecting localities were carefully discussed and routes planned. Seaview resident Mr. Karl Edwards, made a marked contribution by providing local knowledge from his ramblings in the forests around PE. He and his wife Ros, and son John, guided us to a variety of areas and helped collect snails. Our first two sites, one close to the Van Staden’s River bridge and the other further inland at the crossing of the Berg River, provided a good haul of specimens, especially Chondro’s. We then visited the Stinkhoutkloof forest close to Hankey – a relict patch of Afrotemperate forest with similarities to the Knysna forests, amidst the mono-specific stands of plantation pines. This forest clearly has not been visited often by humans and presented an intact under storey, middle-storey and mature canopy species. It had an enchanting feel and produced the first live specimen of Nata, which had everyone elated for the rest of the day.

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Fig. 1 Mary Cole discusses a snail find with Prof. Dai Herbert

Before departing from the Port Elizabeth area we sampled at Lovemore Heights, situated high above the city with majestic views west and east toward Nelson Mandela Bay. According to Karl, this forest represents the easternmost extent of temperate forests of the southern Cape, with forests further east of this containing more tropical elements. Our next stop was the vast spekboom-dominated thicket environment of the Addo Elephant National Park. Here sampling got tougher as the conditions were drier, but with a little persistence a number of species were collected alive. We were fortunate to see a few good elephant and lion sightings while routing through the park. Zuurberg, an inland extension of Addo park (in a more mountainous area) produced several Chondro’s in an area far removed from previous records, but no Nata. Each evening we gathered around our sampling trays and prepared and sorted specimens before wolfing down supper to hit the deck early. Days are long and have the added pressure of finding suitable sites to collect. The early morning bird chorus made sure we arose with the first rays of summer sun!

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Fig. 2. ‘Snailers’ set off on a long walk into the Zuurberg Mountains

Our last locality in the Addo Elephant National Park was the Woody Cape extension, known as the Alexandria forests, where we stayed in the charming hikers’ hut in the heart of the forest. Here inland forests and coastal dune forests were sampled with a reasonable success, both in terms of diversity and numbers of snails. November is also a good time to see flowering arboreal orchids. Researchers from Rhodes University joined us for part of a day at the Langebos section of the forest. Prof. Nigel Barker was initiated into collecting his first Chondro! At the Waters Meeting Nature Reserve, Bathurst, where no previous snail-collecting had been done, we did not find many specimens, but noted how the recent rains had damaged the environment with several land slips being evident. One wonders if these rains had also washed away the leaf litter and snails on the steep slopes. At our last collecting site, the Kap River, this usually small tributary of the Fish River had completely washed away the road, but we were able to cross the massive gap in the road and access the forest on foot.

Kevin Cole – Natural Scientist

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About East London Museum Science

Conservation Biologist East London Museum South Africa
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