University of Cape Town (2008)

Southern African Reptile Conservation Assessment

Project Details

Grantee Organization: University of Cape Town
Grant Amount: $135,057
Contact: Dr. Marienne S. de Villiers
Contact Email: marienne.devilliers 'atsign'
Funding Dates: 03/01/2008-12/31/2010


South Africa has the third richest diversity of lizards after Australia and Mexico, and by far the richest diversity of tortoises in the world, and while the southern African region has a proud history of conservation action and planning, reptiles have been largely excluded from these processes. This is partly because of their negative image, but largely because useful scientific information on their diversity, distribution, and conservation status has been either lacking or poorly collated and synthesized.

The Southern African Reptile Conservation Assessment (SARCA) aims to rectify these conditions by involving the public in collecting data for an online “Virtual Museum” where they can be shared, verified, and added to the SARCA Database, which also includes data from museums, field surveys, and scientific literature.

Key Objectives and Activities

SARCA aimed to improve knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of the reptiles of South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland, thereby improving the conservation status of the region’s reptiles by:

  • Compiling a comprehensive and integrated database of records of the reptiles of the region, mapping distribution; and improving access to data and research on reptiles.
  • Conducting field surveys, collecting and banking voucher specimens and tissue samples for researchers addressing taxonomic issues.
  • Producing an updated Atlas and Red Data Book of the reptiles of the region with a conservation assessment for each species, conducted according to IUCN standards.
  • Raising public awareness of reptiles and their conservation needs on a broad front.
  • Working with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), to document, monitor and protect biodiversity within South Africa’s borders.

Planned Outputs and Outcomes

  • A project website to provide information, news and feedback to participants and the public at large.
  • An online “virtual museum collection” of photographic records submitted by the public.
  • A gap analysis for the reptiles of the atlas region.
  • A methodological report on survey techniques, based on SARCA’s experience in the field.
  • An integrated database of all available distribution records.
  • An Atlas and Red Data Book of all 415 Reptile Species of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, including a Red List, a hotspot analysis and recommendations for monitoring.
  • Addition of an estimated 2,200 voucher specimens and over 2,000 tissue samples in national depositories.
  • Provide invaluable resources for research, conservation planning, and legislation.
  • The gap analysis, field survey, and database will improve future research.
  • By engaging the pubic in reptile conservation, the SARCA Virtual Museum, will improve understanding of and attitude towards reptiles.
  • Train a cohort of experienced people to take the work of SARCA forward into a new phase.

Primary Software Platforms

Data generated by SARCA will be made publicly available via SANBI’s Integrated Biodiversity Information System (IBIS).  Project Database was designed using MS Access and MySQL.

Results to Date

  • As of the end of the grant period a draft of the Atlas and Red Data book was complete and in the review process. The atlas publication was significantly delayed and is expected in April of 2014.
  • A distribution database of approximately 120,000 records of southern African reptiles was compiled from museums, conservation organizations, private citizens, and literature and field surveys.
  • For each of 410 reptile taxa that occur in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, there is an account that includes the recommended red listing category, a description of taxonomic issues, niche, distribution threats and recommended conservation actions
  • 24 SARCA field surveys, spread over 300 days in three summer seasons and involving 58 volunteers, yielded about 4,220 distribution records. Additionally, 6,100 Virtual Museum records were received, giving a total of 10,520 new SARCA records.

Lessons Learned

  • Setting priorities: The scope of the project was ambitious, but might have been doable in the grant period had tasks been tackled in a different order. The main deliverable, the conservation assessment, depended on a comprehensive and error-free distribution database. The Virtual Museum, while valuable in its own right, was not necessary for the completion of the assessment and could have taken less priority.
  • Data sharing: Many data owners were willing to provide data to SARCA but some were reluctant to share this data via SANBI’s web portal, and some found legal contracts to be intimidating. Asking data providers to sign a simple Memorandum of Understanding for data sharing at the beginning of the project may have prevented delays.
  • Once received, data sets also contained many more errors than expected, further complicating the project. Both issues could be circumvented by following the data sharing approach of the Reference Centre on Environmental Informatio of CRIA in Brazil.
  • Volunteers were used to prepare conservation assessments and the project was not always of highest priority. Providing clear and realistic milestones may have helped them prepare materials in a more timely manner.
  • There were often delays in receiving field work permits at the start of the project. It would be helpful to forge agreements with conservation agencies to expedite cooperation projects.

Related Publications

Atlas of Reptiles of Southern Africa Forthcoming

Notes from JRS

JRS is making an effort to create these grant profile pages for grants that were active prior to 2013 and this new website effort.  The lessons learned by the project team are generally applicable and are consistent with other JRS projects that discover the importance of partnership agreements and memorandum of understanding as a key and often rate-limiting step.  We are proud to have supported this very valuable atlas and it is one of several that will appear in South Africa with partial support of JRS (e.g. dung beetles, lace wings, bees).  We have debated the value of paper vs. electronic atlases and the SARCA publication may present an opportunity to evaluate its use over the long term as compared to the electronic resources.  This is a landmark publication that will fill a knowledge gap in the region and will help launch a new SANBI zoological series, Suricata.

Last Updated: February 28th, 2017

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Which are your primary communications interest?