Ecology, Biogeography & Conservation Article
by Euan John Edwards, Madagascar

This trip was a little more exciting than some of my previous ones. I started off by not knowing an exact departure date in advance. So after a late night telephone call, the next day was spent trying to get tickets, packing and all those things that one tends to leave till the last minute. I got to the Air Madagascar office late in the afternoon as the "riot" police were setting up for the demonstrations. The next morning at five AM I was up, and off to the airport. When I arrived in Johannesburg I overheard a couple of people discussing the "demonstrations" — one of them got a whiff of tear gas, her claim to fame I guess. But to me it makes more sense, that when you come across demonstrations, to head in the opposite direction - works for me.

As usual I was met at the airport by a mate, but I informed him straight away that I was on antibiotics and was not drinking. He was taken aback, but there was no choice, he would have to get inebriated without me. Which he did. It is a totally different scene being the only sober person, instead of the most drunk.

Seeing as it was nice warm weather, we headed off to the Vaal river to visit someone. The guy;s brother-in-law is one of those people with more money to buy toys, than time to use them. The garage was full of jet skis, and quad motorcycles. But on the river was a boat with wall-to-wall carpeting, inboard motor, and an excellent stereo system. So we spent some time just seeing how well the boat handled. After the sun went down we retired to the heated pool and a B.B.Q/Braai. Sometimes life is so difficult :)) But I had to cut the fun short and head to Uganda the next morning.

The exporter who was to meet me at the airport was late, which set the course to what was to come. The next day I started packing a shipment for export to the United States of America. I started off packing the venomous snakes first, some nice Tree Vipers (Atheris squamiger, Atheris nitschei, and Atheris hispida), and Forest Cobras (Naja melanoleuca). But whilst putting a Jameson's Green Mamba (Dendroaspis jamesoni), that was injured, back in it;s box I was tagged. Stupidity really, I should learn not to expect help from people, I was trying to unravel it;s tail from my arm, sometimes I wish I had three hands.

So twenty four hours later I was out of the clinic, though not quite on my feet so to speak. I sat it out with a compressive bandage rather than take the antivenin, under doctor's supervision. Whole body numbness, jerky legs, muscle fatigue, and a general feeling of highness. I spent the next few days trying to see where the exporter was in his husbandry knowledge. Many exporters in the "Underdeveloped World", have not had the easy access most Europeans have in regards to wildlife management. Thus I try to increase their knowledge to ensure only animals of good health are exported, with the correct packing methods.

Trapper's house

I wanted to then go to Mount Elgon to see Chamaeleo hoehnelii, but time was not on my side. So I headed back to the south west of Uganda, where the mountain gorillas are found. Another trip passes and I still have not seen the gorillas, though I have been in the national parks where they live. It costs $250 USD for a ticket to see them, that sort of money I just never seem to find at the right time. Though I did get to see Johnston's Chameleons (Chamaeleo johnstoni), from another population outside of the Rwenzori mountains. They appear to be a more sky blue colour, and live in a disturbed habitat. Johnston's chameleons (C.johnstoni), and Elliot's chameleon (C.ellioti) are found in the same habitat, but C.johnstoni prefers a higher altitude, the temperature regularly drops to 10ºC. This area of the world is known for it;s high rainfall, the humidity is always high. Where the chameleons were collected was agricultural fields left fallow, within small to medium shrubs.

The driver I had the use of was so experienced, I think he had never driven a car before. Where you are supposed to go right, he went left, when he was supposed to go left, he went right. Potholes a hundred metres ahead, in full view, were hit head on at 100 km/hr. Not good for the vehicle. He even hit a cyclist on the return journey, needless to say he is not working for the exporter anymore. His eyesight was so good he never even saw the three elephants walking across the road. I had use of a VERY old Land Rover, that needed fixing before I left, then again half way through the trip, and on the return as well. You go through a lot of petrol when there is a hole in the fuel tank.

Anyway I also went back to the Rwenzori mountains.

Habitat of Bradypodion xenorhinum, Rwenzori Mountains
Again the park was not open due to rebel activity, so I was unable to climb up into the mountains themselves. But I sat around for a couple of hours while the locals collected a few chameleons, Strange Nose Chameleon (Bradypodium xenorhinum), Johnston's Chameleon (Chamaeleo johnstoni), and Elliot's Chameleon (Chamaeleo ellioti) and I took a few more photographs. The Rwenzori Mountains are also wet, and cold, the temperature thirty centimetres underground was 18ºC, but the air temperature rises to 30ºC.
Strange Nose Chameleon (Bradypodium xenorhinum)
Johnston's Chameleon (Chamaeleo johnstoni)
Elliot's Chameleon (Chamaeleo ellioti)
I arrived back in Kampala, after a few hours bumping along the road, in time to pack another export. I photographed everything before hand, and as per usual when I needed help there was none. I wanted to photograph a Jameson's Green Mamba, which was not too co-operative, I had it by the tail and asked for a hook, and asked, and asked, eventually I turned my head to see why a hook was not forthcoming, only to get bitten on the upper thigh for my trouble. Luckily I had plenty of antibodies floating around. So the only effect was a very sore thigh, a general feeling of weakness and a splitting headache. I was able to pack the export no problem, except by the time everyone got their act together the freight department had closed. So I worked ALL day for nothing.
Chamaeleo ellioti, Kampala
Chamaeleo ellioti, Mukono

The species being exported at the moment are: Blue head Agamas (Agama atricollis), a Mabuya species skink, Blanding's tree Snakes (Boiga Blandingi), various Green Tree Snakes, Black Egg-eaters (Dasypeltis spp), Red Egg-eaters (Dasypeltis spp), and Olive House Snakes (L.olivaeus.) I also did a couple of side trips not too far from Kampala to see some Hairy Bush Vipers (Atheris hispida), and Great Blue Turacos.

Luckily I could return to South Africa for some R & R. Another day on the Vaal river, supposedly to learn skiing, but alas we came across a group of friends having a party, this time I was not on antibiotics so joined in the fun. Though when I went to the clinic in Kampala for the snake bite, I found out that I had Giardia, and Bilharzias. The joys of living in the tropics.

I spent a week in Johannesburg stocking up my stomach in restaurants, and buying supplies to bring home. South Africa is very cheap in comparison to other parts of Africa, and the world. The locals just do not understand how well they live, on so little.

I arrived in Antananarivo to notice from the plane that it had been raining a little while I was away. Tana looked liked a lake full of islands from the air. The world's news organizations just seem to forget about Madagascar. Last year when the floods hit Mozambique, people were not informed that the cyclones passed through Madagascar before they got to Mozambique. Ah well, it just goes to show how relatively peaceful Madagascar is, that it does not even hit the news. I arrived home to over a thousand emails, and some welcome magazines in the post box. Though as usual the "Reptiles" magazine has gone astray, in one year I get three issues, but get ALL other mail, I have heard of others having the same problem in Europe.

Well hope you enjoyed. So I hope that this gives an idea of what it entails to receive those precious reptiles in the stores.

Chamaeleo hoehnelii altaeelgonis

This page last updated on: Sunday, April 7, 2002

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